GOODYEAR, Arizona -- Rookie Davis will start the exhibition opener for the Reds Friday against the San Francisco Giants.
That’s not like starting on Opening Day, but it’s still pretty cool for a young pitcher.
“I’m approaching it like any other game,” Davis said. “But any time you pitch the first game is awesome. But the first game of spring training in big league camp in that environment brings out the competitive drive."
Davis, a 23-year-old right-hander, came to the Reds in the Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees.
He dealt with a groin strain last year, but still put up good numbers in Double-A despite it -- 10-3, 2.94 ERA -- but his strikeout ratio and his velocity were down.
“I didn’t feel like I could disclose it,” he said. “I wanted to pitch ever fifth day. It took a game in Chattanooga to scare me.”
“I felt comfortable pushing off the later part of the season,” he said. “That’s when the strikeouts went up.”
Pitching successfully through the injury may benefit Davis in the long run.
“I think Rookie had a pretty good grasp on that before he had the groin issue,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “He really understood and worked on fastball command. Really ahead of the curve for a pitcher of his age and experience in regard to fastball command. So, it also forced him to have to really invest in the accessory pitches. He had the breaking ball, he worked on a hybrid slider-cutter, and then the changeup.
"The changeup for me, was really one of the areas that he really needed to focus on since last year to continue to move along as a starting pitcher. He made the most out of a tough situation.”
Davis was 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA in five games (four starts).
“Him having to struggle a little bit isn't the worst thing in the world,” Price said. “It's a way the game tells you where you need to improve.”
Davis and Sal Romano, another 23-year-old right-hander, are in the second tier of competition for the starting rotation. Prospects Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett, waiver claim Lisalverto Bonilla and journeyman Tim Adleman are in the first tier.
“For me, the pecking order starts with the guys who are better than league -- the league I’m talking about is Triple-A," Price said. "Reed was so good in Double-A for us, had such a great spring and got off to such a great start that I thought it was reasonable to think of him as a guy who could make the jump from Double-A in a hurry.
“I think there’s something to be said for Romano and Davis having experience and success at that level.”
Price said don’t count out Adleman, the 29-year-old right-hander who went 4-4 with a 4.00 ERA in 13 starts for the Reds.
“Adleman was good last year,” Price said. “He knows how to pitch. I don’t want to underestimate what he did for us last year and what he can do for us this season.”