PHOENIX — The Chicago Cubs got only a glimpse of the real Zach Davies in his one season with the North Siders last year.
The Davies who mixes a two-seam fastball in almost equal portions with a reliable 79 mph changeup, a pitch that moves just hard enough to break a hitter’s heart.
Davies was that guy in the D-backs’ 4-3 victory over the Cubs, further establishing himself in a starting rotation that, without much fanfare, entered the game with seven straight victories and a 2.43 ERA, second in the Majors behind the Dodgers.
Davies had a streak of 16 1/3 scoreless innings broken when the Cubs scored three runs in the space of four batters in the third inning, but he quickly recovered and didn’t allow another run all night, making the 2021 season look more like an extreme outlier.
“Kind of just a landslide of things [last season],” said Davies, who was 6-12 with a 5.78 ERA in 32 starts with the Cubs. “Mechanics. Mentality. Kind of just everything.
“This year was a fresh start for me. I’m pitching at home, which is nice, too. I went into the offseason trying to get better, trying to fix things, trying to figure things out.
“Getting back to my old self. Being aggressive. Getting ahead of guys. Trying to get weak contact. Last year was kind of nit-picky. Trying to throw away from hitters instead of trying to make them put the ball in play. This year is a little bit different. I feel a lot better. Healthy. It’s fun.”
The D-backs have three starters with ERAs under 2.00 in Zac Gallen (0.95), Merrill Kelly (1.71) and Madison Bumgarner (1.78), and Davies checked in at 3.57 (below his career number) after improving to 2-1.
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The D-backs have won 10 of their last 13 games, the best current run in the league, as their offensive production has caught up to what has been a season staple, strong starting pitching.
The return of Davies — and his changeup — has amplified that.
Davies threw 34 changeups among his 92 pitches on Friday, giving up four hits in 5 2/3 innings while striking out six for the second start in a row. He got seven outs on the change, including two strikeouts. Patrick Wisdom struck out three times, once on a changeup and twice on fastballs that probably caught him looking off-speed.
“History shows the changeup has never gone away,” catcher Daulton Varsho said. “When you have a good one, you can stay in this league for a long time. It’s location. If he is locating his fastball that day, he is going to get hitters on that changeup.”
After discarding his curveball and using his sinker a bit less, Davies had remarkable success with his changeup in 2019-20, when he turned it into an integral part of his arsenal and began throwing it at least 30 percent of the time.
Davies’ changeup was measured at 18.2 weighted runs above average by FanGraphs — a number that was one of the best in the Majors — in 2019, when he was 10-7 with a 3.55 ERA in the last of his five seasons with Milwaukee.
His changeup graded out at 11 wRAA in 2020 with San Diego, when he was 7-4 in 12 starts in the 60-game season.
Like everything else a year ago, it dropped into negative territory, but it has returned as a reliable staple here.
“That’s a pitch I’ve used since high school. It’s one that I’m going to live and die with,” Davies said. “If you are going to beat me, you are going to beat me with my best pitch. That’s one of those things that when it is off, I have to try to figure out how to get guys out. This year, making sure at the start of the year that I have it. I’m focused in on that.
“There are small things mechanically that flatten my pitches out and doesn’t allow me to get to spots that I need to. Going through every start and seeing video and working on those things between starts kind of got me back on track.”