PITTSBURGH — Trevor Williams made his third start of the season at PNC Park on Friday, going 5.2 innings while allowing three runs on four hits in a 7-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
It’s been an interesting start of the season for Williams. He battled to the last cut in Spring Training for the Pirates’ fifth starter spot and then had to go through the adjustment of being a relief pitcher for the first time while also getting his first full-season taste of the majors.
Then, after Jameson Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer, Williams was turned right back into a starter after just a month of relief. It was a big ask for the young pitcher and he’s certainly had his ups and downs in the process.
That’s one of the reasons that he carries a 6.04 ERA, despite being a fairly productive pitcher for large stretches. His last start in Arizona, he gave up just one run in five innings. The start before that, it was eight runs in three innings in Los Angeles.
That played out on a less-macro level Friday night, as well. Williams pitched four perfect innings, but two hits and a walk in each the third and the sixth inning produced three runs. The outcome in the sixth was especially cruel, with Daniel Nava fisting one off the handle of his bat over third base for an excuse-me double that scored Cesar Hernandez. Nava then scored on a sacrifice fly one batter later.
“Baseball is a game of inches,” Williams said. “It’s tough that that double went down the line there. I made a good pitch. He just got enough wood on it to be fair.”
On the whole, manager Clint Hurdle thought Williams pitched a lot better than his line (three runs in 5.2 innings) reflected.
“He has made progression,” Hurdle said. “We were looking to move his pitch count from the 70s, where it was the last two starts, so in a positive fashion he got to throw more pitches. He retired nine hitters in three pitches or less and only had three three-ball counts. There were some good things that happened tonight I thought.”
It’s just another reminder for Williams that there won’t necessarily be a linear path to his development.
“It’ll all pan out at the end of the year,” he said. “Obviously, I’m going to chase that Dodgers start for a while. But, in terms of development, I’m not looking at numbers. That was a big development day for me in L.A. I’m getting better and knowing how to use that in my starts going forward and I feel like I’ve learned a lot going from that. Hopefully, I can take it to the next start in Atlanta and go from there.”
Williams’ outing was made more impressive by the fact that he was without the services of his slider for most of the evening. Without it, Williams didn’t record a single strikeout, instead having to rely on getting soft contact most of the night.
“It didn’t slide. It was just one of those days. You have to know what you have, not try to do too much and take a step back,” Williams said. “It was really just fastball, changeup and then working the sinker. They were swinging early. I know in the first few innings, we got a lot of quick-pitch outs. So, we were kinda just riding that.”
Here’s a spray chart of pitch locations from Williams’ slider on Friday. At first glance, it’s not that alarming, especially considering the fact that two of the four balls that stayed in the strike zone were hit for outs.
But here’s what Williams’ slider usually looks like, from his last start in Arizona.
Williams got one whiff on 11 sliders, which is just below his 10 percent whiff rate on the season. That’s the highest rate of any of his four pitches, but he’s not going to get swings and misses with it living in the heart of the strike zone.
HOT STREAK CONTINUES
Josh Bell went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI as the only Pirates player to produce much offensively. Bell now has extra bases hits in seven straight games. In that stretch, he’s hitting .364 with a 1.823 OPS.