The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen was much maligned during the first few months of the 2018 MLB season, and for good reason.
Through June, closer Hector Neris had blown three Save opportunities. He also had fashioned a horrendous 6.90 ERA and had allowed three earned runs or more on four separate occasions.
The two free agents signed by the club in the off-season in order to improve the pen were not contributing. Tommy Hunter had a 5.04 ERA through June and had blown his lone Save opportunity. Pat Neshek spent the first three months on the DL and wouldn’t make his first appearance until July 1.
The poor performances and injuries led the Phillies brain trust to take a look into the minor league system for some help. There they found a 25-year-old southpaw on the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs pitching staff who was having some success.
Born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, Austin Davis had been the Phillies selection in the 12th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of California State University in Bakersfield, California.
At the time of his selection, “The Baseball Draft Report” commented that Davis was “looking like scout pick for sure, as ’14 numbers (only season of D1 experience) weren’t pretty; really impressive stuff: 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak, 78-82 SL with upside, good 78-82 CU, low- to mid-70s CB; pro body (6-5, 240 pounds)…”
Once signed, Davis quickly began demonstrating that “really impressive stuff” during a minor league career that saw him rise incrementally through the system with sustained success. Over parts of five seasons, the lefty would surrender 228 hits over 265.1 innings across 135 games with a 270/92 K:BB ratio.
His 3.1 BB/9 and 9.2 K/9 marks along with a 1.206 WHIP were nothing special. But Davis had a knack for avoiding serious trouble, which is an extremely valuable quality to a baseball manager.
This past December, “Baseball Ross” provided the following commentary on Davis while taking a look at Phillies prospects who had been passed over by other clubs in the Rule 5 Draft:
“A big 6’4 power lefty out of the pen. Watched him pitch in the low to mid 90’s at Clearwater last year where he went 2-0 striking out better than a batter an inning. At Reading he gave up only one earned run to left-handed hitters to pitch to a 0.61 ERA against them. The 24-year-old would make a great LOOGY out of a major league pen…”
Promoted from AA Reading to AAA Lehigh Valley early this spring, Davis was enjoying a stellar season out of the IronPigs bullpen. He had a 2.43 ERA while yielding just 19 hits over 29.2 innings with an outstanding 38/8 K:BB over 22 games.
Davis has now been with the Phillies for a full month. Seven of his 11 outings have been scoreless, and he has a 17/5 K:BB while allowing 12 hits over 13 innings.
On Friday night, Davis was credited with his first big league win as the Phillies rallied for an 11-5 victory over the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park. He struck out three Padres batters while walking one and allowed one hit in relief when starter Jake Arrieta was driven out in the fourth inning.
Todd Zolecki of MLB.com described his clutch effort:
“Phillies left-hander Austin Davis replaced Arrieta with runners on first and second and one out in the fourth. He walked Hunter Renfroe to load the bases, but got Carlos Asuaje to hit a ball to Carlos Santana, who threw home for the forceout at the plate. Davis then struck out Wil Myers to end the inning and went on to pitch 1 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the first win of his big league career.”
“We have everything we need,” Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler proclaimed following the game per Zolecki. The Phillies are believed to be taking a look at a number of options as possible trade acquisitions to bolster the pen. Whether successful in that effort or not, they may have found an in-house keeper in Davis.