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Starter finds great way to begin

In debut, Davies made sure to stop at nothing

By Marvin Pave
Globe Staff / May 22, 2005

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Braves starter Kyle Davies, just up from Atlanta's Triple A Richmond farm team, made the Red Sox look like a bunch of Toledo Mud Hens.

There was pressure enough on the 21-year-old righthander because prior to his major league debut last night, Davies had allowed 13 earned runs over his last 8 1/3 innings in the minors, so he wasn't exactly on a roll. Add to the mix Atlanta's four-game losing streak, its longest since 2002.

But when his teammates put a four-spot on the board against Tim Wakefield to go up, 6-0, in the fifth inning, Davies -- who won the Phil Niekro Award as the organization's top minor league pitcher last year -- was well on his way to becoming the first Atlanta pitcher to win his debut as a starter since David Nied 13 seasons ago.

''It's been my dream to pitch for the Atlanta Braves," said the native of Decatur, Ga., who pitched five scoreless innings and then watched the Braves' bullpen hang on for the 7-5 victory. ''I was just trying to concentrate on making pitches."

It would have been easy for Davies to feel in awe of the defending World Series champions, so from the first pitch on, he tried not to take in too much of the Fenway scenery and simply focus on the glove of catcher Johnny Estrada. ''Johnny knew these guys. He said, 'Just let me call the game.' I trusted him and just hit his mitt," said Davies. ''The first inning, being young and being at Fenway was a thrill. As the game went on, we scored a bunch of runs. It's easy to pitch with a seven-run lead no matter where you're at."

Braves manager Bobby Cox said he plans to pitch both Tim Hudson and Davies on three days' rest, which is why he held the latter to five innings and 95 pitches. ''There was maybe another half-inning in him," said Cox, ''but he'll be going on short rest and he hadn't thrown more than 105 pitches in a game in Richmond. For a rookie start, that's saying something. He threw a lot of strikes and he's always been noted for his changeup. You could tell he was a winner in spring training."

Davies pitched out of jams in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, inducing Edgar Renteria to pop out and David Ortiz to ground out with two on in the third; retiring Bill Mueller on an easy ground ball to second base with two more aboard in the fourth; and striking out Manny Ramirez (for the second time), again with two Red Sox on base, in the fifth to complete his first big league start with a flourish.

''Manny is a great hitter," said Davies. ''We kept throwing him fastballs away. I tried not to look at who was in the box because I might get too amped up."

Davies, a fourth-round pick in the 2001 draft, allowed four hits, walked three, and struck out six. Fifty-seven of his pitches were strikes and he also had the satisfaction of making his debut with his parents, girlfriend, grandmother, and other assorted friends and relatives in the stands. Davies arrived in Boston Friday night and his entourage from Georgia followed shortly thereafter.

''I'm sure they're pretty excited and I'm excited to get with them and tell them all about it," Davies said. ''I saw my dad before the game and he was drenched. They were lucky enough to get a flight in and it was pretty neat to have them here the first time."

All in all, a memorable night for a young man who one year ago was pitching in the Carolina and Southern leagues, before completing his dash to Triple A in time to become the winning pitcher in the Richmond Braves' decisive Game 5 playoff victory over Columbus.

Last season, he led the Braves organization in strikeouts and had a combined 13-3 record and 2.73 ERA at Myrtle Beach (Single A), Greenville (Double A), and Richmond. He had a streak of 19 appearances -- from May to September -- without a loss. This season, he was 2-1 with a 4.78 ERA with Richmond.

Summoned in the wake of injuries to starters John Thomson and Mike Hampton, Davies's task was made a lot easier by the Braves' hitters, who pecked away at Wakefield and took advantage of four Boston errors.

''Everybody told me coming up, just be yourself . . . don't try to do too much. That helped a lot," he said. ''I got here late [Friday] night and didn't have much time to think about it. I think it's better that way."

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