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In Davies, Smoltz sees similar traits

In Davies, Smoltz sees some of his traits

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Over the course of the past 10 years, John Smoltz has been introduced to a number of young pitchers that possess some of the same traits he had when he was a young Braves pitcher.

When Kevin Millwood came to Atlanta, Smoltz saw the same hard-throwing right-hander that he'd once been. Now as he watches Kyle Davies mature into a Major Leaguer, the longtime Braves hurler sees a great talent who might be just as stubborn as himself.

"I think every pitcher is stubborn a little bit," Davies said. "All the good ones are, I hope. I think I'm a little stubborn, but just because I'm young. Smoltzie obviously has a lot of patience. But he's got a little stubbornness in him, too. You've got to learn how to make it work for you, instead of against you."

Obviously, Davies has taken time to listen and learn from Smoltz, who served as his workout partner throughout the offseason. But unfortunately, like so many others, the 23-year-old right-hander has also gained this outlook as a result of adversity.

Before he completely tore it while pitching against the Marlins last May 14, Davies' groin was bothering him. He'd felt it five days earlier during a start in Miami and never said anything to the team's medical staff. Nor did he heed the advice of Brian McCann, when the All-Star catcher could tell something wasn't right.

One pitch after waving McCann back behind the plate, Davies threw a curveball and felt a severe pop in his right groin. Less than a week later, Davies found himself undergoing a surgery that would delay his budding Major League career for 3 1/2 months.

"You can't always have your foot on the gas," said Smoltz, while admittedly providing advice that he hasn't often heeded during a career that has included four elbow surgeries.

Seemingly healthy and a little wiser, Davies made a successful Grapefruit League debut in Thursday's 7-2 win over the Dodgers at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. He needed just 17 pitches to complete two perfect innings.

"He threw real good," said Cox, who was impressed when Davies showed no hesitancy while pumping up to throw a high fastball by the Dodgers' Matt Kemp to end the first inning.

When Davies took the mound, he says he wasn't worrying about his leg or his battle to win the fifth spot in the rotation. He was simply looking to display the great talent that hasn't been evident during the early portion of his career.

Through the first 28 starts of his career, Davies is 9-11 with a 6.15 ERA. Much of that damage came last September, when, while fearing the possibility of reinjuring his groin, he went 1-4 with a 13.07 ERA.

Take away those six starts and Davies finds himself with a 5.38 ERA as a starter, equal to the same mark Tom Glavine had after the first 22 starts of his career. At the same point of their careers, Greg Maddux had a 4.78 ERA and Smoltz a much more respectable 3.80 mark.

And while Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were getting their feet wet at the Major League level, they weren't attempting to do so while playing for an organization that has come to expect annual trips to the postseason.

"It's a tough scenario for anybody to come up and have success in an organization that has had a lot of success, and then try to sustain it," Smoltz said. "Glavine would say the same thing. Maddux would say the same thing. We had our lunch handed to us in a bad, no-pressure developmental stage."

While working out with Davies during the offseason, Smoltz saw the young hurler had a definite desire to be as close to perfect as possible. The veteran hurler gained the sense that he could tell Davies that his jump shot was ugly and then find two weeks later that the kid had developed the shooting touch of Larry Bird.

When not harnessed, this type of passion can prove destructive. But as Smoltz has done, Davies will learn to harness his emotions and use the passion to his advantage.

"You'd rather have his error, rather than the guy [who says], 'Oh well, no biggie,'" Smoltz said.

After going 3-7 with an 8.38 ERA in his 14 starts last year, Davies subjected himself to criticism. Some wondered if he should have ever been considered a top prospect, while others gained the belief that his teammate Chuck James is destined for a better career.

Obviously, Davies can use some of this criticism as further motivation. But more importantly, he knows that he must prove that he's regained the confidence he lost last year. He must be confident that his leg is healthy and that his right arm remains capable of doing something special.

"More than anything, I want to go out there and prove to myself that I can pitch," Davies said. "That's going to take me going out there and pitching well. I think today was a good step toward that."

It was a certainly a positive step in a career that Smoltz believes could potentially be just as successful as the illustrious one that he's enjoyed.

"He's more polished than I was and he has more knowledge than I did," Smoltz said.

Fortunately, Davies also has an experienced mentor who will be able to guide him through his stubborn stretches with the knowledge that he gained through his own early struggles.

"[Smoltz] worked hard and got out of those first couple of years, and I'm going to have to do the same thing to be successful," Davies said. "If you don't learn from those first couple of years making mistakes, you're not going to go very far."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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