Wade Davis knows pitching. You can’t make it to the big leagues without a good understanding of your craft, and while the 25-year-old right-hander is still learning, he knows enough to have established himself as a mainstay on a talented Tampa Bay Rays staff. Davis discussed the ABCs of pitching prior to last night’s game at Fenway Park.
On the keys to pitching: “In general, there is no one right way to get anybody out. I also believe there is no one right way, mechanically, to throw a baseball. I believe that it is mainly your mindset in how you attack a hitter. You need to be able to control your emotions and stay under control on the mound.”
On his mental approach: “A year ago, someone told me that he knew a pitcher who, on every pitch he threw, was 100-percent convinced the hitter wasn’t going to hit it. I kind of take that mentality. Obviously, it’s not true. They’re going to hit the ball, but if you take the mentality of, ‘this guy isn’t going to hit this pitch,’ I think it makes you a much better pitcher.”
On toeing the rubber: “I stay on the third base side of the rubber to create more angle to right-handed hitters. That’s something that has always worked for me. You need to stay in line to home plate. Your direction needs to be going toward home plate, toward the hitter.”
On balance point: “Nothing is more important than your balance point. If you don’t come to your balance point, then everything that follows is going to be wrong. You’re going to fall off, you’re going to fly open, you’re going to be side to side, your ball isn’t going to go where you want it to go, and you’re not going to get the spin, break, or movement that you want.”
On stride and release point: “A pitcher’s stride is actually kind of unique. You see so many pitchers who have long strides, but I actually have a short stride. Jeremy Hellickson also has a short stride. It’s just kind of what you feel comfortable with, whatever allows you to make the best pitches you can.
“With your release point, you have to be out front. You have to feel like you’re getting out front, toward the catcher. You have to get full extension on all of your pitches.
“You have to make sure you don’t try to do too much. You’ll see guys come to the big leagues and try to throw as hard as they can, so their release point is inconsistent and they get hit around. You wonder why, and it’s because they’re trying too hard. If they can take it down a couple of notches, and really concentrate on getting out there, it makes it a little easier.”
On rhythm: “Rhythm is another thing that’s really important. You have to have a good rhythm where everything feels in tune. Timing is everything. Everything is just flowing together with no clicks or pauses. Everything needs to be almost like in a song — there is a good beat to it.”
On velocity: “I used to think that velocity was really important, and now I’m starting to believe that it’s not, unless you throw 100 mph. There’s no difference between 91 and 94 when you start facing good hitters.
“My velocity varies. I can be anywhere from 87 to 95. Changing speeds with your fastball is just as good as changing speeds with your off-speed stuff.”
On his curveball: “I learned it when I was in my third year of pro ball. I had thrown a slider in high school, kind of a cutter-slider, and they taught me a curveball when I got to low-A. They said, ‘don’t throw your slider anymore, just learn a curveball,’ so I threw 20 or 30 curveballs a game. That’s how I learned.
“Everybody is different on curveballs. It’s kind of like a changeup — whatever feels most comfortable. I always think it’s about pressure and not being too loose in your wrist. You throw it like your fastball. Don’t try to spin it, don’t try to curve it or twist it. Just keep a stiff wrist and throw the crap out of it.”
On pitching from the stretch: “You have less time to gather yourself — gather your power in your delivery. Once you get to your balance point and you’re loaded on your back leg, that’s when you want to go forward. If you go too early, that’s when you lose a lot and fly off. You have to come to your balance point and get on that back leg. You want to be balanced, then go.”
What he knows now that he didn‘t when he first signed: “Everything. Just as far as recognizing hitter’s swings, recognizing my delivery. The more and more you throw, the more you learn about yourself. The more and more you face hitters, the more you learn about what hitters are trying to do. Pitching is all about learning.”