BRADENTON, Fla. – Last year, the Miami Marlins had Trevor Williams focusing on trying to improving his curveball. The sinkerball pitcher primarily throws off his fastball, and goes for contact early in the count. However, he has the need for an out pitch, and Miami wanted to see if the curve could develop. But by the end of the year, it was the slider that looked like his best offering.
“Last year with the Marlins, my curveball got really good,” Williams said after tonight’s start. “It got to the point where it was falling off the table, it was offering at different planes. But as the year progressed, it was my slider that was getting more swings. So we kept it in the back pocket. It’s my fourth pitch, and it will be there, it will play.”
Since the moment Williams arrived with the Pirates, there was a clear focus on his slider as that potential out pitch. Nothing specific was said to Williams to focus on that particular pitch. It was just a situation where both sides knew that the slider was his best offering. Every time I talked with a Pirates’ pitching coach, they would talk up the slider. And Williams has clearly been focusing on that pitch more often this year in camp.
“We haven’t talked much about it,” Williams said of the focus on the slider. “We know as professionals that my curveball won’t be an out pitch for me. I can bounce it and get swings, but it’s what do I want to focus on more right now? And it’s to dial my slider in to get swings.”
The development of the slider was the big story tonight, as Williams made a start at McKechnie Field against the Orioles, giving up two runs on seven hits in five innings of work. He primarily worked off the sinker, but mixed in a lot of sliders. One of them happened to go over the fence for a home run against Nolan Reimold. But the pitch also led to a few strikeouts, with five on the night.
“It’s still early,” Williams said of his progress with the pitch. “All sliders are hit or miss. You’d want to be wipe-out every time. Obviously, the second home run I gave up wasn’t a wipe out. That comes with it. It’s not April yet, but we still have to dial it in.”
The first homer Williams gave up was against Pedro Alvarez, off a sinker. He went in to the matchup with the focus of throwing changeups and fastballs up and in. He got Alvarez to swing and miss on a fastball up and in, and then tried to make the pitch better, rather than going for the exact same spot. He missed, and Alvarez crushed the mistake. However, the next time, Williams got Alvarez to strike out on three pitches.
“I was not going to miss down the middle,” Williams said of that second at-bat. “The scouting report coming in, these guys have seen him a lot, he chases up and they said he kind of looks for that low ball early in the count. My sinker goes low.”
Overall, Williams did well tonight working primarily off the sinker. This Orioles team is aggressive, and they attack early in the count, which really plays into his game.
“What I showed in the first few innings was I was going to attack with my sinker,” Williams said. “So they got into swing mode, and that’s what I thrive off the most, is when guys swing really, really early. Just start hitting the sinker into the ground, weak contact, less than three pitch outs. I use that to my advantage, and that’s my MO.”
This start was unexpected, and came about when Williams basically switched places with Juan Nicasio, who threw at Pirate City this afternoon. It came against Major League hitters, and the success gave Williams the confidence that he belongs in the Major League mix.
“It was nice to see where I’m at today,” Williams said. “When you come into big league camp, and you look at guys that you’ve been watching your entire life, you throw bullpens next to them and watch them play, you kind of realize ‘This is how close I am’, and it was tangible tonight. It was tangible tonight getting big leaguers out. Obviously the first inning you go ‘Holy cow, this is different.’ But you just have to remind yourself that you have the ability to get guys out, get Major Leaguers out. You know you’re good enough, you know you belong, and it was kind of tangible tonight.”
There is still the big decision of where Williams will end up starting the season. He deserves to be starting in Triple-A, however, the Pirates have too many good prospect options slated for that level, and the need for immediate rotation depth in Pittsburgh could push him down to Altoona at the start of the year. Right now it looks like Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl would have spots in Indianapolis. Steven Brault and Trevor Williams would be fighting for the final two spots, although both could be bumped down if Kyle Lobstein and Wilfredo Boscan end up in the Indianapolis rotation.
“There’s a lot of competition going on. And it’s good,” Williams said. “I think Glasnow throws tomorrow. Glasnow will dominate tomorrow. And then after that it’s Brault, and Brault will dominate. It’s really who is going to let up the gas? I hope they let all the young guys be in that rotation, and be able to dominate throughout the year together, but it is what it is. I can’t control it. Wherever I go, I’m going to pitch to the best of my ability.”
At some point this year, Williams could end up helping out the Pirates, although with guys like Glasnow and Taillon ahead of him, that seems like a low probability. Still, he looks like a guy that the Pirates like, and someone who could fit in their plans in the future.
“We like the guy,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “We saw some things that we really liked once we got him here and got to put our hands on him and watch him in Spring Training. It’s a good growth experience for him. Fun to watch. Fun for him to come back up and be able to go out there and compete, and finish an outing very strong.”
**Jordy Mercer left in the fourth inning after sliding hard into third base, and jamming his knee. It was another situation where the Pirates were cautious in removing a player and making sure he wasn’t seriously hurt. Mercer said after the game that he was fine, and expects to play tomorrow.
**Josh Harrison showed his aggressive base running and heads up play on a triple in the first inning. Harrison hit a pop up to left field that fell in between the third baseman, shortstop, and left fielder. He stretched it to a double, then noticed no one was covering third base and turned on the guns rounding second. He ended up getting the triple, which isn’t something you’d see from a player in Spring Training with a guaranteed Major League starting role.
“It’s not his DNA,” Hurdle said of Harrison going less than full speed. “He plays the game. Every time he’s been in a uniform when I’ve seen him, he plays the game.”
— Pirates (@Pirates) March 27, 2016
**Jason Rogers had a nice play at third base on a tough hop, which he fielded cleanly and turned into a 5-4-3 double play. Rogers has actually looked decent at third base this spring, rather than the huge question mark he was expected to be when the Pirates acquired him.
“He’s played more third with us than he probably has in the last three years,” Hurdle said. “I think the fact that he’s gone over there, he’s worked very hard with the reps, he’s done a lot of extra work there. I think he’s giving us everything he’s got to go over there. From what we heard going in, it showed up much better than what we heard it might look eventually. I think it’s that he didn’t have a lot of reps the last couple of years.”
I don’t see Rogers as a starting candidate, but he might not be a horrible option as a depth guy who fills in the spot off the bench at times.
**Hurdle said that the Eric O’Flaherty trade was made because O’Flaherty was in a battle here, and Atlanta called with a MLB job. Teams typically give a veteran a chance at the guaranteed job in these situations, so they don’t ruin their reputation with future potential signings.
**Juan Nicasio made a six inning start earlier today at Pirate City, which I broke down here. Hurdle commented on the start, and on Nicasio’s performance this spring, after the game.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do coming in. He continues to work very hard to get better. He had a very good work day today, a very solid work day today. … He’s just continued to work, and work himself into a very good place, a very competitive place.”