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Former Stanford pitcher Davis makes it back to the majors

 

Former Stanford baseball pitcher Erik Davis, 28, had been in the Boston area, where he lives in the offseason with his fiancee, for a few days when he got a call from Washington assistant general manager Doug Harris in early September.

Davis had completed the minor league season with the Harrisburg (PA) Senators, the Double-A farm of the Nationals, after coming back from Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of the 2014 campaign.

"I was enjoying being at home with fiancée and my dog," noted Davis, who met his future wife when he played in the Cape Cod League while in college. "We were driving to an open house and got a call from Doug. Usually that is a good thing or a bad thing. My first instinct, since it was the offseason, was to think it was a bad thing."

After also reaching Triple-A Syracuse in 2015, Mountain View High grad Davis figured his season was over before Harris informed him that the Nationals wanted him to join the team in Miami.

The rosters expanded Sept. 1 and Washington needed some more relievers after Drew Storen, another former Stanford right-hander, broke the thumb in his pitching hand and is out for the year.

Davis arrived in Miami the evening of Sept. 12 and was in uniform the next day. Then he joined the team for a road trip to Philadelphia that began Sept. 14 and was with the team for a homestand that ended Sunday.

"It was an amazing thing. It is exciting. It is nice after all that work you put in to make it back," said Davis.

Davis joins a list of Washington pitchers, including Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, who have come back from Tommy John surgery.

"It's obviously a very difficult task, not only physically but mentally," Washington director of player development Mark Scialabba said of returning from Tommy John surgery. "You have to make sure you can see the end goal."

"I think the hardest part was mentally figuring out to trust" the process, Davis said.

Davis made his big league debut with the Nationals in 2013, five years after he was drafted by the San Diego Padres out of Stanford. He pitched in 10 games out of the bullpen for the Nationals that year and had an ERA of 3.12 with his first big league win. This year Davis appeared in 47 minor leagues at the Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A level and was 1-2 with an ERA of 3.88.

Paul Menhart was the pitching coach for Davis at Triple-A Syracuse in 2014 and at Double-A Harrisburg in 2013 before the right-hander was called up to the majors. Menhart is now the minor league pitching coordinator for the Nationals.

"I am so proud of this young man," Menhart, a former big league pitcher, said of Davis. "It is a tough road back; I had (Tommy John surgery) myself. He just grabbed the opportunity."

Menhart said that Davis has a plus change-up but had to regain the command of his fastball to get back to the majors. Davis struggled at Syracuse this year and was sent down to Harrisburg.

"At Triple-A I struggled really poorly and they sent me back to Harrisburg. That is as bad as I have pitched in my professional career," said Davis, who had an ERA of 8.49 in 11 games out of the bullpen this year for Syracuse. "At the time it was tough but, in the end, it was for the best. I was table to take a deep breath and find myself. It worked out for the best. I can't complain one bit."

The manager at Syracuse was Billy Gardner, Jr.

"I thought he handled it really well," Gardner said of Davis' return. "His stuff was always good."

Was making it back to the majors more special than the first trip?

"It is hard to say. It is always special that first time," Davis said. "That was my goal, to make it back. Before my injury I put myself into a good position (with the Nationals). Now I have to wipe the slate clean. Heading into next year I think I put myself in a good position."

The Nationals figure to lose veteran starters Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency. The makeup of a bullpen changes most years for nearly every team, and the Nationals should be no different.

Storen lost his closer's role to Jonathan Papelbon and there is chance the Nationals will trade Storen. And, Papelbon could be traded after he lunged for the throat of teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout during a game in Washington on Sunday.

So the bullpen could have a lot of new faces in 2016 and Davis hopes to be in the mix.

Davis, whose locker was next to Storen at Nationals Park, warmed up in the bullpen on Sunday but did not get in the game. The Nationals began a road trip Tuesday that will take them to Atlanta and New York to end the season. Washington fell to the Braves in their opener, 2-1.

Davis said he did not pick up a baseball for five months after the surgery. He did most of his rehab work in Viera, Fla., the spring training home of the Nationals, usually spending six days a week on the process.

"You don't realize how hard it is mentally to come back from it," Davis said. "You almost have to learn how to pitch again. I went 19 months between games. It is something you take for granted. I think in the end it made me stronger."

Editor's note: David Driver is a freelance writer who can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com

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