Williams rolls through Reds, backed by HRs

Right-hander having historic 2nd half; Frazier, Polanco go deep in win

September 3rd, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- On July 6, gave up five runs and recorded seven outs against the Phillies. He had a 4.60 ERA and a lot of questions to answer, and he knew it. Standing in front of his locker, Williams vowed to improve after saying his performance was "getting a little embarrassing."

What he's done since then is getting a little historic.

Williams threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the Pirates' 5-1 victory against the Reds on Monday afternoon at PNC Park, lowering his ERA to 0.66 over his last nine starts. Remember that 4.60 ERA? It's down to 3.15 now, the ninth-best among qualified National League starting pitchers.

"I'm confident in my ability to pitch at the big league level and have success at the big league level," Williams said. "It's just a matter of executing pitches."

Williams' ability to prevent runs since the All-Star break has put him in elite company. 's second-half performance in 2015 is the gold standard, as he posted a 0.75 ERA -- the lowest in Major League history -- before beating the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game.

Well, consider this: Williams has a 0.72 ERA in eight starts since the break.

Williams doesn't possess eye-popping peripheral numbers or overpowering stuff. He struck out four and walked one while allowing five hits on Monday, and his fastball averaged 91 mph. Some might wonder how he's getting it done. Critics might say he can't sustain it.

But there isn't necessarily a secret to his success. Manager Clint Hurdle has repeated the keys for Williams over and over again during this stretch, and he did again after Monday's game.

"It's pitchability. It's flat-out pitch execution. It's a technician," Hurdle said. "He's hitting spots. He's throwing his fastball where he wants it, and he's changing speeds. And it's really hard to hit."

Williams relies on intelligent game-planning, location and deception. His velocity gives him a lower margin for error, so he must locate his fastball at a high level, work with what he has and read hitters' swings to find holes. He did it on Monday with a heavy dose of sinkers and changeups.

"It's trusting my stuff and my ability to put the ball where I want to," Williams said.

The Reds put two runners in scoring position with one out in the first inning after Joey Votto's checked-swing single and a double by Scooter Gennett. Pitching with what Hurdle calls "the fortitude of a burglar," Williams caught looking at an inside changeup then got to fly out to center on a first-pitch fastball up in the zone.

"He kept us off-balance. We didn't really do much," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "[The Pirates] added a couple [runs] late, but pretty much Williams was the story of the day."

With two outs and a man on first in the seventh inning, Williams walked off the mound to a standing ovation. His success hasn't gone unnoticed or unappreciated in the Pirates' clubhouse either. said Williams is simply fun to play behind. jokingly tweeted at Williams asking for "that cheat code you're using out there."

Hurdle said a pitcher like Williams might have to prove himself "twice as long as anybody else" before he gets the attention he deserves, but Williams isn't worried about how he's perceived.

"That's not what I pitch for," Williams said. "I pitch for the guys in the clubhouse here, and I pitch to win ballgames in a Pirates uniform. That's my main intention."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Bringing the bats: Williams' turnaround has been one of the most encouraging developments in a mostly disappointing season for the Pirates, but there were two more on display at the plate.

Frazier went 4-for-4 with a solo homer in the first and a two-run single in the seventh. He fell a triple shy of the cycle as he boosted his batting average to .288 and his OPS to .827. Since being recalled from Triple-A on July 25, Frazier is hitting .352/.405/.619.

"Not trying to do too much, kind of tired coming in off that trip [from Atlanta after a 5 p.m. ET game] last night," Frazier said. "But I found some holes and found some barrels. It was a good day."

It was also a good day for , who launched a two-run homer to right in the sixth inning. Polanco has hit 23 home runs this season, a new single-season high, while posting a career-best .833 OPS.

SOUND SMART

Williams is the only pitcher in the Majors this season to make nine starts of at least five scoreless innings.

Polanco and Frazier have combined to hit each of the Pirates' last eight home runs. The last homer hit by a Pittsburgh player other than Polanco or Frazier came on Aug. 15, when went deep against the Twins at Target Field.

HE SAID IT

"That was the most exciting thing about today for me, then being able to talk to Joey Votto. I've always wanted to. I try to make my rounds. I really want to talk to third basemen, too, but that hasn't happened this year." -- Williams, on his third-inning single to right field

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY

Frazier's fourth hit of the game drove in Kevin Newman and in the seventh. The Reds challenged that Osuna's foot was tagged before he reached the plate, but after review, it was ruled that the call stands.

UP NEXT

Right-hander Joe Musgrove will start for the Pirates as they continue their three-game series against the Reds on Tuesday night at PNC Park. Musgrove has allowed nine runs in 10 innings over his last two starts but felt he pitched better than his results indicated on Thursday in St. Louis. Left-hander will start for Cincinnati. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.