Tucker Davidson gave many Atlanta Braves fans hope that he would solidify himself as one of Atlanta’s five starting pitchers earlier this season. After a roaring three starts in Gwinnett in which he had a 0.90 ERA and a three start run with Atlanta in which he had a 1.53 ERA that scenario seemed very likely. Unfortunately for Davidson, a rough start in Boston led to forearm inflammation which sent him to the injured list. It was a stint that ultimately put him on the 60-day injured list and ended his season at the major league level. Ended until now, that is, as Charlie Morton’s injury (link) forced the Braves to go one pitcher deeper on their roster. Davidson was their choice, and given how he pitched earlier in the season it’s fair to say there’s some hope he can give them solid innings now in the World Series.
Davidson may not have made it back to Atlanta during the regular season, but he did get one more start in Gwinnett on the last day of their season and did quite well. The patience with his recovery and rehabilitation seemed to pay dividends as he had a strong outing. He got through three innings on only 40 pitches (his limit was 3 IP or 45 pitches) and threw 30 of those for strikes. Both the curveball and slider had the bite typical of a fully healthy Tucker Daavidson, and though the fastball command wasn’t his best it was only a tick below an average start from him during the season. His velocity was in his normal range and he was getting the carry on the ball up in the zone that is usually a sign of him having a good fastball that day. He struck out five batters over his three innings of work, and while he ran into trouble in the second inning much of it was not entirely of his own doing. After a strikeout to lead off the inning he had to grind a tough at bat with the next batter, who took a close 3-2 pitch for a ball on Davidson’s only walk of the game. The next batter hit the ball hard, the only hard hit ball of the game off of Davidson, before a bloop single (that would have been caught by a better right fielder) loaded the bases. A sacrifice fly got in the run and that was about it for the trouble against Davidson in the game. In the first and third innings Davidson was stellar, with only a ground ball that snuck through the left side of the infield putting a mark on his ledger. It wasn’t Davidson at his most spectacular, but he was efficient with his pitches and looked sharper than one would expect a player to be three and a half months removed from last throwing in a game.
It’s unclear exactly what the role will be for Davidson, but in any case he’ll likely be expected to throw multiple innings and should be able to handle that. Given his pitch limit was 45 three weeks ago it’s fair to assume it’s at least that now which would buy the Braves two to three innings. If he has continued to pitch and ramp up his workload in the event he was needed he’d be at a point where 70 pitches is doable assuming he was effective enough to reach that number. Without confirmation of exactly where he is we can’t say for sure what he will be expected to do. Davidson has never made a relief appearance in the major leagues, but he did start his professional career off as a reliever and log 68 ⅓ innings in that role before transitioning to a starter.
Davidson’s matchup with Houston doesn’t appear to be the best, as the Astros have crushed left handed pitching this season. They rank third in major league baseball overall against left-handed pitching with a .340 xwOBA and also hit Davidson’s primary pitches well. Houston ranked 6th in major league baseball against left handed four seam fastballs in Davidson’s velocity band (91 to 95 mph) with a .364 xwOBA against those pitches and they were the top team at hitting left handed sliders with a .320 xwOBA. Those pitches account for 48.8% and 40.6%, respectively, of Davidson’s tracked pitches at the major league level. The one pitch that does seem to favor Davidson in a relative sense is his curveball. The Astros only rank 10th in the major leagues against left handed curveballs with a .279 xwOBA, and it would be unsurprising to see him lean more on that pitch when his number is called. If used in a short stint there is reason to believe Davidson can add velocity, and a two mile per hour bump would drop the Astros xwOBA on fastballs to .343. Given Davidson has only thrown 40 pitches in the last four months it wouldn’t be fair to place expectations too high on his shoulders, but especially in comparison to the Braves other options he has had the most major league success and has been the least prone to having command collapses throughout his career. It’s not a great situation to be in but given the options at Atlanta’s disposal Davidson is clearly the most reliable with Spencer Strider having very little upper level experience and Kyle Muller, Touki Toussaint, and Josh Tomlin just not pitching all that well at the end of the season. In a role where he is only expected to go through the lineup one time he would be able to lean on the curveball as his primary pitch which would certainly help his chances of putting up solid numbers. If his curveball is working like in the regular season, when batters only put up a .234 xwOBA against it, he could give the Braves 2-3 innings of 0-1 run ball in a best case scenario. Even at a minimum, if Davidson can give them 3 to 4 innings of work and keep the game in hand you have to be happy about that, and given the state of the Houston rotation even allowing three or four runs should still give the Braves offense a chance.