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Rays' Davis unfazed by move to bullpen

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:59 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

Wade Davis views himself as a starting pitcher. He believes he has a lot to offer in that role. He believes he can help the Tampa Bay Rays achieve their ultimate goal this season of reaching the World Series as a member of the rotation.

But, Davis will pitch out of the bullpen, at least in the foreseeable future.

And, he sees that as a positive, as well.

"It's not a demotion," Davis said. "We're still all going for the same thing, to get to the World Series as a team. Individualizing yourself and taking it personally would be stupid. It would be selfish."

Rays manager Joe Maddon announced the rotation Tuesday morning before boarding the bus to Fort Myers for a game against the Red Sox.

Jeff Niemann and Matt Moore are in. Davis is out.

"We just like the idea of Jeff in the rotation and Wade in the bullpen, the fact that Wade can come out of the bullpen and possibly throw some high velocity numbers and make an impact there," Maddon said.

James Shields starts on Opening Day and will be followed in the rotation by David Price. Maddon said he has not decided on the order of Jeremy Hellickson, Niemann and Moore.

When asked if it is between Hellickson and Moore to start the third game of the season, he said, "It's a little more complicated than that."

Davis will work in relief to clear room for Moore, considered by many to be the top pitching prospect in baseball.

"He's one of those young starters that if you think they can handle emotional, mentally and physically, you got to give him that opportunity," Maddon said.

Moore didn't learn he made the rotation until Maddon delivered the news to Davis and Niemann. The rookie also said he didn't approach this spring as if he had already earned a spot on the major league roster.

"I didn't want to set the bar low," Moore said. "I wasn't necessarily planning on to pitch in the minor leagues this year, but at the same time I also understood that spot was not guaranteed, that coming into camp I was going to have to pitch well and stay healthy."

Maddon said the competition between Davis and Niemann was not the typical competition between two pitchers vying for the final spot in the bullpen, where one has to out-pitch the other to make the team. Both have been successful pitchers for the Rays and major contributors to the 2010 and 2011 playoff teams.

"We have confidence in both of these guys," Maddon said.

Niemann is 38-23 in 89 games with the Rays, 84 of which were starts. Davis is 25-22 in 64 games, all of them starts. Both pitched out of the bullpen in the postseason – Niemann in 2010 and Davis last season, when he allowed one hit in 2 1/3 scoreless innings against the Rangers.

"The criterion is kind of fuzzy. It's an ambiguous thing," Maddon said. "It's based a little bit on feel right now as far as we're concerned and just knowing both guys."

Niemann said Maddon was upfront with both he and Davis from the start of camp. Providing Moore pitched well enough this spring, he or Davis would be working in relief.

"I really had no idea how it was going to play out," Niemann said. "You got two extremely high-quality people involved in the deal and it's kind of a win-win for the organization. I'm glad that I'm in the rotation and I'm glad that we're still here."

By that, Niemann means he's glad the Rays didn't trade either he or Davis in the offseason.

So is Maddon.

"Absolutely," he said. "In the offseason (executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman) and I talk a lot and the fact we were able to get all the things we were able to get done player personal-wise and not have to give up either one of these guys I think is great."

It allowed the Rays to maintain their depth in starting pitchers – Alex Cobb is just a phone call away at Durham – while adding another power arm to the bullpen.

Maddon said Davis initially will be used for long relief but could morph into a middle- to late-innings reliever the way J.P. Howell did during the 2008 season.

"The role can get meatier as it moves along," Maddon said.

Maddon also added that he considers Davis a starter and, given the fact the Rays have used at least seven starters every year since 2008 means Davis could also find himself back in the rotation at some point this season.

So does Davis.

"I still (have) tons to prove," he said, "and tons to give back."


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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