Williams lives up to the hype in dominant second start

Cleveland's top prospect tosses seven shutout innings, matches feat not accomplished since 1902

June 28th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- The future is here.

The Guardians never put pressure on their young players. They consistently reassure them that the first few games of their career won’t determine if they’ll be in the Hall of Fame. But as manager Terry Francona always likes to say, “There’s a lot to like,” when it comes to . And the way he pitched on Tuesday night in just his second career start showed why there’s so much excitement surrounding him.

Francona was unable to witness Cleveland’s 2-1 victory over Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium in person. He had to step away for the evening to undergo some tests at the local hospital after he started feeling unwell prior to first pitch. But there’s no doubt he would’ve dropped his famous line about how much there is to like about Williams’ future based on the seven scoreless innings he threw against the Royals.

“He’s got a big arm,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “That’s an upper-90s fastball with carry [and] two breaking balls. He pitched effectively at the top or just above the zone, and he threw a lot of strikes. When he didn’t want to throw a strike, he didn’t throw a strike. He pitched really well.”

Williams gave fans a taste of what he could bring to the table in his debut against the A’s last week. He battled some command issues early in the game in one bad inning, giving up a three-run homer in the third, but after that, he locked in, retiring 10 of the last 12 batters he faced. That set quite the precedent for Tuesday.

The 23-year-old righty didn’t miss a beat. He picked up right where he left off, building from the momentum he established against Oakland, tossing four hitless frames before the lone hit of the night off him came in the fifth. Outside of that, Williams allowed just one walk and struck out six on 92 pitches.

“Every call I made was an easy call,” catcher Bo Naylor said. “We were working really well together. All I had to do was click a button and let him do the work. He showed us what he’s made of right there.”

Williams’ outing was one Cleveland fans hadn’t seen since in more than 120 years. The only other pitcher in team history to toss at least seven innings while holding opponents to one or fewer hits within the first two games of his career was Addie Joss in his Major League debut on April 26, 1902.

Clearly, Williams didn’t take long to get over the butterflies that may have been present during the first few innings of his first start.

“What can you expect when you’re coming out for your debut?” Naylor said. “You’re gonna have those jitters and stuff. Today, I felt like [he was] a little more relaxed, settled in very easily and just kind of pitched with his stuff and played freely.”

His fastball induced 31 swings, eight of which were whiffs. He also had 14 heaters called for strikes. Five of his six strikeouts came on the four-seamer, and he mixed his slider and curveball to keep hitters off balance.

“I mean, me and Bo were talking throughout the game,” Williams said. “That worked most of the game. So, offspeed every once in a while when I really needed it.”

“I thought coming out the gate, the fastball was good and had life,” said Guardians bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who filled in for Francona. “He had some swing and misses with it up in the zone, and when he mixed in that curveball, that difference of velocity and tilt, I thought he was real good.”

There’s a reason Williams is ranked as Cleveland’s top prospect and No. 12 overall in Major League Baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. His fastball has turned heads at every level in his short professional career. It was talked about as one of the best heaters in the 2021 MLB Draft. It’s continued to grow since he’s been in the Guardians’ system. On Tuesday, it averaged 95.6 mph and topped out at 97.7 mph. 

He’s proven that there’s more in the tank, too. And when he can mix in his offspeed pitches to complement it, it’s hard to imagine lineups figuring out how to attack him any time soon.

“He’s commanding the fastball so well,” Naylor said, “and I feel like the sky’s the limit for him whenever he’s doing that.”