Pitcher hunts for spot in rotation
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates pitchers under new coach Joe Kerrigan are decreed to pitch more inside this season. Even if that means bruising a few batters or a few psyches, such as mannerly starter Ian Snell, who maintains, "I don't think it's very polite to hit somebody."

At 6 feet 6, Jason Davis shouldn't have much trouble being something short of a headhunter.

For starters, he's a hunter with heads all over his walls at home. And he stuffed and mounted every one.

"We've expanded," Davis said yesterday of his collection in Charleston, Tenn., amid the Smoky Mountains. "Twenty-one deer. Six to eight ducks. Five largemouth bass. A couple of smallmouth. A walleye. A steelhead. A pheasant. A bobcat. A red fox.

"We have a nice trophy room."

Every one of them, start to finish, is his handiwork, too.

Davis, a fastball-splitter-slider pitcher by vocation, is a taxidermist by avocation. What he hunts, he later guts, stuffs, tans, paints, dresses, mounts, you name it. You don't think one look at his trophy room might cause, say, Florida Marlins to back away a mite from the plate? The thing is, Davis doesn't advertise his hobby: He only works on projects for family and friends, though he admits to maybe telling teammates Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss about it -- "They're rednecks, too," teased Davis, a native Tennesseean.

For the record, this pitcher plunked three batters in 34 innings last year, when management signed him hours before the opener and got a 2-4 record and 5.29 ERA from him, not to mention 20 Class AAA starts at Indianapolis.

This former Cleveland starter -- coaxed to the club by general manager and former Indians hand Neal Huntington -- is in his first full spring with the Pirates, who penciled him in as one of their 10 starting rotation candidates. He is scheduled for a two-inning stint Friday against Atlanta, right after starter Tom Gorzelanny works the first two.

"Obviously, J.D. can pitch out of the bullpen," Pirates manager John Russell said of the right-hander who worked 10 of his 14 games last season as a reliever. "You have to have some guys, unfortunately if injuries or something happens, who are stretched out [as starters in spring training]. It's easier to put a guy into the bullpen after he's been stretched out rather than stretch a guy out to start.

"We need starters in [Class AAA], too," Russell said of a Davis who spent seven of his nine professional seasons in the minors at some point. "So if they're stretched out they can go do that, too."

Davis, 28, spent the first four of his six Indians seasons as a starter, going 11-18 in that job. He has bounced around since, bullpen to minors to Seattle in a May 2007 trade to Texas through most of spring training in 2008 to the Pirates.

Signing with the Pirates March 29, 2008, he said: "It was a fresh start for me. I went to [Class AAA] as a starter, got some innings in. That's what I needed most, to get my feet under me. I felt good. I was real happy with last year."

He prefers starting but knows his potential role. "Whatever the team needs: long guy, starter, back-end guy."

Davis picked up his hobby on the front end: The seven-point rack and head of a deer shot by his brother, who didn't want to pay to have it mounted. So Davis packed up the frozen parts -- "the horns and the hide," he called it -- in a cooler and drove to Cleveland with wife, Sarah, and daughter, Lily, then 2, for offseason work. Seemed like a good time to start taxidermy in their apartment.

"They couldn't wait till I got done so they could get the kitchen back. I wanted to do it all on my own, the first one. It's real tedious," said Davis, who estimated it took him 18-20 hours to complete, not counting the two-week drying period. Nowadays, he performs such tasks at the shop of a buddy who is a professional taxidermist.

Could it be time to hang baseball trophies on that wall?

"Maybe some broken bats," Davis said. "Or something like that."

Pirates pitcher Jason Davis is a taxidermist in his spare time.

Chuck Finder can be reached at
First published on February 24, 2009 at 7:29 am