MILWAUKEE — What a difference a year makes.
At this time last season, Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Zach Davies was lost. Coming off a 17-victory performance in 2017, he stumbled his way to a 2-3 record and 4.24 ERA in six starts before landing on the disabled list.
After returning a month later, he was shelled in two outings before landing back on the IL and didn't return until September.
But when he takes the mound Friday night as the Brewers open a three-game series against the Giants in San Francisco, Davies will be in possession of the National League's only perfect record (7-0) and with the league's fourth-best ERA (2.41).
"I think he’s pitched wonderfully," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He’s been a real rock. He’s been a stabilizer. He’s performed every single time out. He’s given us innings when we needed them like last weekend. He’s given us a chance to win every time he’s taken the ball, for sure. He has sometimes put us on his back and helped us win. It’s been a great start. He’s carved himself out a really, really good start. It’s been important for us."
It's a complete turnaround from last season when Davies made 13 appearances — 20 fewer than he made during his breakout 2017 campaign.
"Nothing was working last season," Davies said. "Even with rest and time off, it never seemed to get better."
So what is the difference between then and now?
For starters, time. Originally left off Milwaukee's postseason roster — though he did make a relief appearance during the NLCS after Gio Gonzalez was injured — Davies went into the winter hoping to clear his head and put the frustrating year behind him. Like most pitchers, he did some tinkering during spring training but more than anything, just being healthy — fully and completely healthy — has been the biggest factor.
Getting off to a good start has helped, too. Davies had a history of coming out of the gate slowly. He had a career ERA of 5.90 in April starts coming into the season but went 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his first six outings, allowing five earned runs over 32⅔ innings.
"After missing most of last year, it felt good to start the year this way,” Davies said. “The last few years, the mantra with me is ‘slow starts.’ So being able to do that in April, being able to settle down and trying to get as fast as I can in midseason form is great.”
Not only has Davies performed well, he's also given the Brewers badly-needed length at some of the most important moments of the season.
A day after the Brewers and Mets played an 18-inning marathon at Miller Park, Davies took the mound on May 5 and threw 7⅔ innings of two-run ball in a 3-2 victory. Less than a month later, following a 13-inning battle with the Pirates at PNC Park, Davies fell just short of being the first Brewers pitcher to record a complete game since Jimmy Nelson on June 18, 2017, by pitching into the ninth inning of a 4-2 victory.
“You pitch into the eighth inning or the ninth inning on days after extra-inning games, it’s just so huge,” Counsell said. “They’re just really valuable performances."
Davies relishes those opportunities, fully aware of what's at stake — both for a beleaguered bullpen that's done more than it's fair share of heavy lifting but also for the team as a whole, as it looks to stay atop the NL Central Division.
"Everybody’s goal is to pitch as long as you can," Davies said. "Your mindset doesn't change (in those situations), but the game plan does a little bit.
"I have confidence going into my starts, confidence in the guys behind me, so it's easy to go out there and throw and pitch my game."