Growing up in the San Jose area, Tyler Davis got to see a lot of Tim Lincecum in his heyday as the Giants’ double Cy Young-winning ace. Long before Davis knew he would follow in Lincecum’s path as a University of Washington ace, The Freak was a pitcher he could relate to.
Both had to overcome preconceptions about their size and appearance. Lincecum was deemed too scrawny to hold up to the rigors of pitching, but he parlayed his brilliant Husky career into major-league stardom.
“I kind of was like, ‘You know what, this guy is 5-10, 5-9, and he’s doing everything he’s doing right now, and no one else is doing what he’s doing,’ ” Davis said. “So obviously, this is something I can do, him being as big as he is.”
Davis paused, smiled and added the necessary addendum: “Obviously, Lincecum has a little different skillset than I do. It helped that he threw 95-plus.”
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The bespectacled, redheaded Davis, who stands 5 feet 10 and is listed, generously, at 180 pounds, not only is at ease with the fact that he doesn’t fit the physical blueprint of a formidable pitcher. There’s also the fact that he has hit 90 mph “maybe one time in his life,” as UW coach Lindsay Meggs said Wednesday.
But Meggs was speaking in admiration about a guy he called “a thinking man’s pitcher.” And one who in this magical Washington season has achieved success not seen in the program since, well, Lincecum.
At 10-1 with a 1.77 earned-run average for the Huskies, Davis is their first double-digit winner since Lincecum had 12 in 2006. He is on the watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top collegiate player (and won by Lincecum in ’06). Davis and teammate Brian Wolfe on Wednesday were also named to the watch list for the Gregg Olson Award for college baseball’s Breakout Player of the Year.
The Huskies, ranked fifth by Baseball America, certainly are the breakout team of the year, and this weekend they will play one of their biggest series in school history: a three-game showdown in Corvallis with No. 2 Oregon State that likely will determine the Pac-12 champion.
Davis’ emergence is symbolic of the team’s rise. To say the junior was unheralded entering the year, coming off a 2-7 record and 5.11 ERA last year, is an understatement. But now he finds himself the winningest pitcher in the Pac-12, an achievement, along with the Huskies’ 37-11 record, that often causes him quiet reflection during practice, in the dugout, or even on the mound.
“Just taking a quick, deep breath,’’ he said, “and realizing how lucky I am, how lucky we all are, being able to play with each other and have such great chemistry, such a great team, and do so well collectively.”
Meggs believes the aberration in Davis’ career was last year, not this season. The right-hander feels his turnaround has been borne from a renewal of confidence and a return to a mindset Meggs describes as “no fear. No fear whatsoever.”
That’s easier to muster for someone 6 feet 4, 205 pounds who throws regularly in the 90s – someone, for instance, like his older brother Erik. He made it to the majors last year with the Washington Nationals after a career at Stanford (a school that didn’t look at Tyler out of Archbishop Mitty High School).
Asked if he ever was jealous over the raw tools of his brother (who is sidelined for the 2014 season after Tommy John surgery), Davis answered quickly, with a laugh: “Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I’d always be willing to take in the 6-4 frame he has. No one would deny that if they had the ability to have it. But I’ve learned to use whatever I have. I try to use my body and everything I have to the best of my ability.”
It was Erik who early on instilled in his brother the need to perfect his changeup, which is his out pitch. It’s not surprising that the pitchers he watched most closely growing up, besides Lincecum, were Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux. Both used guile as much as stuff to forge their success.
Meggs, Davis said, challenged him this year “to relentlessly hit my spots,” and Davis has done so to the tune of a 47 to 11 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 811
“My mindset is that the only way I can win is beating you with spotting up the ball, coming in and out, and making you actually try to prove you’re a good hitter, rather than just getting up there and swinging at whatever is left over the plate,” he said.
That game plan is supplemented by a constant need to prove himself that would make even the chip-on-their-shoulder Seahawks nod their heads in approval.
“Every single time I get out there, I definitely feel like the underdog,” he said. “I feel like I’m a guy who goes out there every time and I have to prove somebody wrong. … I have to prove to everybody every single time out that I’m going to win.
“I do get the question a lot, what is it like being that small. At the same time, I’ve been able to harness that and use it to my advantage. I get overlooked, but I make people pay for it.”
Meggs sums up Davis succinctly: “Zero fear, and a lot of confidence.”
He’ll start Saturday, in the middle game of the Oregon State series. Meggs has used that rotation all year, and he’s not about to change now.
At some point, Davis may well take a deep breath on the mound and briefly ponder a renaissance that should make an old, once-doubted Husky like Tim Lincecum proud.
|Pac-12 baseball standings|
|Washington heads to Oregon State for a three-game series between the top two teams in the Pac-12. The Huskies are ranked fifth in the country by Baseball America and the Beavers are second. A look at where the top four teams in the conference stand:|
|Team||Overall record||Pac-12 record|
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146