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03/02/09 5:22 PM EST

Davis making intentions clear to Rays

Without outside shot at rotation, righty notches another fine start

JUPITER, Fla. -- So far this spring, Wade Davis has pitched both of his games on the road, and he's gone toe to toe with superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols.

And so far, so good.

On Thursday, in front of 10,000-plus fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the 23-year-old right-hander mowed through the Yankees' lineup and registered two perfect innings.

Considering that performance, there really wasn't much room for improvement for Davis' second start on Monday. But he continued to impress, hurling 3 2/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium -- giving up one hit, striking out one and walking none in 46 pitches -- while recording the win in an 8-5 victory for the Rays.

Included in that were two weak groundouts issued to Pujols, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player.

"It's nice to get some time against some of those good hitters and kind of match yourself up against some of the best hitters in baseball," said Davis, who threw a no-hitter through seven innings when he pitched at Roger Dean Stadium in 2007 as part of the Florida State League.

"I've actually made some good pitches on [the good hitters], so it's gone to my favor."

Davis, out of nearby Lake Wales (Fla.) High School, went 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA in nine starts for Triple-A Durham during the second half of last season. And early this year, all the talk has been about Davis' newfound belief in himself.

But while it's important for every big league pitcher to exude confidence on the mound, it's especially crucial for the imposing 6-foot-5 Davis, who relies on pounding his four-seam fastball inside on right-handed hitters -- like he's done successfully against A-Rod and Pujols so far.

"The thing about Wade is that he's confident, extremely aggressive, and he's well-armed for the job," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "It's not somebody who's confident and aggressive going out there with below-average stuff. This guy has very quality stuff across the board, and he added a slider to his repertoire last year -- that was a big factor for him, and it's going to be [this year].

"He's got four legitimate pitches and pretty much everything you look for."

Davis said his slider is "not quite as sharp right now as it will be in the future." On Monday, he mostly threw fastballs again while mixing up a couple of curveballs.

"It was a little different this time," Davis said, "but I kept the ball on the ground, we made some good plays and I threw strikes again."

The Rays' starting rotation this year will feature Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine in the first four spots, and Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel will likely battle it out for the fifth spot -- if star prospect David Price isn't ready. Despite Davis' early spring success, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon called the chances of the 2004 third-round Draft pick being a starter to begin the season "an absolute long shot right now."

But that doesn't mean he isn't impressed.

"I love the tempo that he demonstrates," Maddon said. "He gets the ball, and he throws it. And he's throwing it in good spots, too. He's keeping it down, primarily with his fastball. Great location, great poise, and another really fine outing for him -- it really was.

"Right now, he's wanting to make a point that 'I'm here,' and the way he's doing it is very interesting."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.