Royals' Scott Barlow has enjoyed soaking up Wade Davis' knowledge this spring

By Lynn Worthy
The Kansas City Star/TNS
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Scott Barlow throws in the fifth inning during a game against the Detroit Tigers on May 3, 2018, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Scott Barlow gets to spend his spring training acting like a kid in a candy store, and there's no adult around likely to tell him he's overindulging himself.

A 6-foot-3 right-hander who made his MLB debut in 2018, Barlow firmly placed himself among the Royals most reliable bullpen options with his performance in 2019 and in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

As he seeks to build on those productive seasons, he'll have one of the best resources he could've ever hoped for at his disposal in the form of former All-Star, World Series champion and the man manager Mike Matheny described as a legend, Wade Davis.

"We're locker mates, so I get to see him every morning," Barlow enthusiastically said of Davis on Sunday. "He's super-open, nicest guy in the world. Any question I've had for him, he's been super helpful. I was talking with him today about the adrenaline factor. He's been in the postseason a bunch. I was asking him what's it like."

Barlow, 28, enters this spring having pitched in 99 MLB games. A former Los Angeles Dodgers draft pick (sixth round, 2011) out of high school in Santa Clarita, California, Barlow has posted a 4.14 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP, a 2.98-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and an average of 11.4 strikeouts per 9 innings.

"He's open to anything," Barlow said. "He's always in for a good conversation. He loves talking baseball. I see him talk with everybody, especially the pitchers, about any questions they have. He's definitely not shy."

The California kid with brown shoulder length hair who has become a bullpen anchor, Barlow was a 22-year-old minor-league player for the Dodgers when the Royals won the World Series in 2015. Davis, the intimidating bulldog closer who unleashed lightning-fast fastballs, recorded the final out of that series.

From 2014-16, Davis registered a 1.18 ERA with a 0.892 WHIP, 11.5 strikeouts per 9 innings and a 3.97-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 185 games. He also recorded 47 saves, and earned All-Star honors in 2015 and 2016.

"I've watched many videos of him, especially in the postseason," Barlow said. "Not only the mechanics, but the big thing is you can see the intensity in their eyes. It's almost like in the movies. And just how locked in he was and into every single pitch.

"People get lost in the mechanics side of what makes them good. That intensity. That focus on every pitch and never veering from that. Always, you could just tell he had one goal in mind — that was just get that guy out. That was something I picked up on."

The Royals hoped veterans like Davis and Ervin Santana might have exactly that type of influence on their pitching staff.

"We've actually had times when we've brought some of the young guys over to watch their bullpen sessions, watch their rhythm, watch their timing, watch how they have a purpose," Matheny said. "They're teaching so much when they're talking, when they're doing their work. It's great to have guys like this around. They're true professionals."

Taking the ball

Last season, Barlow made an MLB-high 32 appearances in a 60-game season. He pitched in two more games than any other pitcher and came within one game of tying Jason Grimsley's franchise record set in 2003 for most appearances in the first 60 games of a season.

When asked about how frequently he called upon Barlow last season, Matheny jokingly responded, "Overused huh?"

"I thought he was exceptional and he continues to make strides where he can do anything for us," Matheny said. "He could finish a game. He could throw multiple (innings) for us. He's been resilient. A lot of this comes down to the formula — how the medical and sports performance guys see him rebounding."

The training and medical staff monitor and analyze pitchers and are on the lookout for "weaknesses" in a player's kinetic chain, Matheny explained. If they notice a player showing signs of wearing down to the point of making him vulnerable, they identify that.

"A lot of it has to do with how he's made, and, secondly, how he works," Matheny said. "Then the other part of that equation is how he feels."

Barlow remained productive throughout the short season. He led the majors with 25 scoreless outings. His seven holds ranked second on the team behind Josh Staumont (eight). Barlow also saved a pair of games as he helped the Royals turn in the eight-best bullpen ERA in the majors in 2020.

Opposing hitters batted .239 against Barlow for the season, a career-best for Barlow. With two outs, Barlow held hitters to a .135 batting average (5-for-37) and a .179 on-base percentage with one extra-base hit.

What was his secret? How do you make that many appearances and remain effective?

"Always pacing yourself," Barlow said. "I think the biggest thing is the throwing aspect. I feel like the working out isn't the hardest part, but managing your throwing is huge when you want to throw in a lot of games.

"That was a big learning process even last year, just throwing in that many games. You don't have to throw every day. A day off won't kill you because you'll have it regardless. Just managing the throwing was a huge learning curve for sure."

His focus this spring has been on the finer details that will allow him to enjoy success such as getting ahead of hitters, holding runners, not giving up "free bases" and being quick to the plate.

During the offseason, he made it a point to prepare himself physically to hold up through the grind of the season. Barlow wants to remain the same sort of reliable presence over the course of a full 162-game slate that he was last year in a shortened season.

"Going into training, working out with my trainer back home, I was telling him I want to pitch in as many games as possible," Barlow said. "He was like, 'OK. We're going to put in some work.' He beat me up for sure this offseason. My goal was to get my body in as best shape as possible, that way I can get the ball whenever Skip asks."