All-Star closer Williams set to get second opinion on ailing back

March 10th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Milwaukee’s two-time All-Star closer is scheduled to see a back specialist on Wednesday after feeling persistent discomfort in his lower back this spring, manager Pat Murphy said Sunday.

“He has some back stiffness,” Murphy said. “He’s dealt with it for a couple of weeks. It just doesn’t feel right, so we wanted to get it looked at by a specialist. We just figured, 'Why not take every precaution?'”

Williams is scheduled to see Dr. Robert Watkins, a Los Angeles-based orthopedic spine surgeon who has treated Mitch Haniger, Corey Seager and Prince Fielder, among a host of other professional athletes.

Williams was given imaging and received an initial opinion from Brewers medical personnel last week, which showed nothing to be alarmed about, Murphy said. When the discomfort persisted, Williams sought a second opinion.

“They felt like he could move forward with it and just treat it and give him some time off,” Murphy said. “He wants to go to a specialist.”

The Brewers had no immediate timetable for Williams' return.

Arguably the best closer in the National League last season, Williams has not been himself this spring. He has given up four runs, four walks and two hits in two appearances covering 1 1/3 innings of Cactus League games.

Williams dominated in his first season as the full-time closer a year ago after taking over from Josh Hader. He went 8-3 with a 1.53 ERA, 36 saves and peripherals to match that dominance. Opponents batted .129 against him -- the lowest opponents’ average in the Majors with a minimum of 50 innings -- and he gave up just 3.99 hits per nine innings.

Williams ranked in the 99th percentile of Major League pitchers in strikeout percentage and swing-and-miss percentage, according to Statcast. His expected ERA and soft contact rates were also near the top.

With Williams locking down the ninth inning, the Brewers’ bullpen ERA of 3.40 was the best in the National League and the second-best in the Majors to the New York Yankees (3.34).

“There are going to be blows in the season,” Murphy said. “Just keep rolling. Test our character."