CHICAGO -- Trevor Williams' season finale on Thursday night was by no means his most impressive outing of the year. He allowed three runs on eight hits over five innings as the Pirates lost to the Cubs, 3-0, at Wrigley Field."It's not going to give me a sour taste in
CHICAGO -- Trevor Williams' season finale on Thursday night was by no means his most impressive outing of the year. He allowed three runs on eight hits over five innings as the Pirates lost to the Cubs, 3-0, at Wrigley Field.
"It's not going to give me a sour taste in my mouth," Williams said, "but it's going to fire me up for this offseason and to work a little extra harder to finish next year strong."
The thing is, it would have been nearly impossible for Williams to finish the season much stronger than he actually did. The right-hander walked off the mound with a 3.11 ERA in 170 2/3 innings over 31 starts on the year, and after a midseason slump, he turned into one of the game's most effective pitchers.
On July 6, Williams owned a 4.60 ERA, a three-game losing streak and doubts about the security of his spot in the rotation. Over his last 13 starts, he put up a 1.29 ERA. He finished the second half with a 1.38 ERA, the second-best mark in franchise history behind Zane Smith (1.30) in 1990.
"I wish I had 10 more starts and could continue this," Williams said. "But it was a fun ride. We look forward to going and outdoing it next year."
Williams figured he'll have time to reflect on his season -- what went right, what went wrong, where he can improve -- during his flight home to Phoenix. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made it clear before Thursday's game that no matter how the night went for Williams, it wouldn't alter his perception of the right-hander's incredible performance down the stretch.
"The body of work speaks for itself. The numbers speak for themselves," Hurdle said. "They were earned. His confidence, his pitchability, the competitor on the mound continued to show up all through the season."
As the innings piled up after the All-Star break and Williams continued to put up zeros, Hurdle said his friends and colleagues around the game took notice. Williams may not overwhelm hitters, but he impressed opponents with his game-planning and execution. When teams would leave town, Hurdle would receive calls or texts with a similar message: "The guy's legit."
"That's the best testament you can get," Hurdle said.
There is not much of a secret to Williams' success, even if it's unusual to see a pitcher with a 91- or 92-mph fastball thrive in today's game. Hurdle has repeated the formula every five days: fastball location and changing speeds.
After his penultimate start, Williams said his consistency was driven in part by fear. But there is a boldness in Williams' demeanor that stands out, too. Earlier this season, Hurdle said Williams pitches with the "fortitude of a burglar." Veteran teammate Ivan Nova put it another way on Wednesday night.
"To see the guy pitch with 91-92, that efficient every single time," Nova said, "that shows you how big his heart is. And how big the other thing is that I'm not going to mention."
Williams' emergence was not only one of the most pleasantly surprising storylines in Pittsburgh's season. It's another reason the Pirates believe they can build a contending team around their rotation next season.
To back up that pitching, however, the Pirates will need to find more offense than they produced against Jonathan Lester on Thursday night. The Bucs managed only four hits on the night, two of which were infield singles. Lester walked four in six innings but worked his way out of jams as the Pirates finished 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
"We missed some opportunities and helped them. Those are the hard ones, when you gift other people at this level," Hurdle said. "It's hard enough to win when you're just playing them one on one, but when you're working on their side as well, not good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Dropped in:Kyle Schwarber led off the second inning with a high fly ball to deep right-center field. Center fielder Starling Marte tracked down the ball and appeared to call for it but backed off at the last moment, possibly because he saw right fielder Jose Osuna tracking the ball as well. It fell in for a single, and the Cubs capitalized on the opportunity. Ian Happ singled to center, and David Bote drove in both runners with a two-out triple to left field to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
"Miscommunication. Lack of communication," Hurdle said. "Either one, it's a non-catch and it's a ball we need to put away."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Cubs' first five hitters reached safely in the fourth inning against Williams, but the Pirates picked up two outs on the bases. Francisco Cervelli caught Happ trying to steal second, and after Lester singled to left, Pablo Reyes fired a throw home, where Cervelli scooped up the ball after an odd hop and tagged out Willson Contreras.
"He's made tag plays at the plate that I haven't seen made since Jerry Grote caught back in the day," Hurdle said. "This guy is the best I've seen around the plate."
HE SAID IT
"One of my goals was to make every start, and another was to finish above .100. That was on the line. He made a good pitch, the last pitch. I thought it was a strike, but the umpire called it a ball and I took my base."--Williams, on working an 11-pitch walk against Lester in the fourth. He finished the season batting .116.
The Pirates' final series of the season begins on Friday at 6:40 p.m. ET in Cincinnati, where Jungho Kang will rejoin the team and be active for all three games. Right-hander Nick Kingham will make another start in place of the injured Joe Musgrove after giving up six runs (five earned) on seven hits, including two homers, over 1 1/3 innings in a loss to the Brewers on Sunday. Righty Anthony DeSclafani will start for the Reds.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.