PITTSBURGH -- Trevor Williams is one start away from completing one of the greatest second-half performances ever by a Pirates pitcher.Williams struck out seven over six innings in the Pirates' 3-0 victory over the Brewers on Saturday night at PNC Park. The storyline was the same as it has been
PITTSBURGH -- Trevor Williams is one start away from completing one of the greatest second-half performances ever by a Pirates pitcher.
Williams struck out seven over six innings in the Pirates' 3-0 victory over the Brewers on Saturday night at PNC Park. The storyline was the same as it has been for most of the past two months: Williams dominated another opponent -- a familiar one, in this case -- with well-located fastballs and effective offspeed pitches. He's done it to Milwaukee all season and just about everyone he's faced since early July.
"He wants to be a master craftsman," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's throwing the ball where he wants to throw the ball. He's making pitches he wants to make."
Precise command and excellent execution have driven this stretch for Williams, who owns a 1.00 ERA over his past 12 outings and a Major League-best 1.08 ERA since the All-Star break. But what has fueled his consistent dominance?
"A little bit of it is fear," Williams said. "I'm throwing every pitch like it's going to be my last. I'm throwing every pitch with 100 percent conviction and really utilizing my fastball. When I use that fear correctly and I use it right, it fuels me to go out there every fifth day and prove, not only to myself but to my teammates, that I can be consistent every five days and give this team a chance to win every five days."
Williams hasn't left much room for doubt lately, especially not in Milwaukee's dugout. He has faced the Brewers three times this season and pitched 19 innings without allowing a run. His second-half ERA is the lowest in Pirates history.
"We've seen first-hand why he's been on such a roll," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "What you feel like is, 'When are you going to get a pitch to hit?' He's just not giving you pitches to hit. It's execution."
What made Williams' outing even more impressive was the fact that he just faced the Brewers last Sunday at Miller Park. The starts were nearly identical: six innings, no runs and a win at the end of the night.
"It's always tough going back-to-back starts against teams, but I know they've seen four other pitchers between me," Williams said. "It always feels like the hitting team has the competitive edge when you see someone so close. I think we executed fine with the fastball to all four corners, and utilizing my changeup when we needed to."
Williams also played a part in the Pirates' first rally of the night. With two outs in the third inning, Williams chopped an infield single off right-hander Zach Davies to turn over the lineup. Adam Frazier knocked a single to center, and Starling Marte ripped a two-run double to left field to give Williams all the run support he'd need.
The 26-year-old right-hander, now 14-9 with a 3.04 ERA this season, has started nine of the Pirates' 15 shutouts. He is scheduled to take the mound one more time in 2018, facing the National League Central-leading Cubs on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.
With Saturday's victory, the Pirates clinched a winning record against the NL Central for just the second time since the division was formed in 1994. Although they are all but mathematically out of the postseason race -- their Wild Card elimination number is down to two -- they've managed to go 39-29 within their division this season.
Much of the Pirates' NL Central success has come against the Brewers, and that dominance has been made possible by masterful pitching like Williams delivered on Saturday. Milwaukee's powerful lineup managed only four hits against Williams, all singles, and advanced only one runner into scoring position against him.
"It seems like everybody has more power and not necessarily as much precision. He's the opposite," third baseman Colin Moran said. "It's really fun to watch. He's a complete pitcher. His stuff's still really good. The velocity might not say it, but the hitters say it all."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Off the bench: Moran entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, reached on an infield single and remained in the game to play third base. The rookie padded Pittsburgh's lead in the eighth with his second hit of the night, an RBI single to left off reliever Jacob Barnes.
Moran has quietly been one of the Pirates' most effective hitters off the bench this season, going 14-for-30 with six RBIs. He has developed a pinch-hitting routine by experimenting and watching veterans, like former teammate David Freese, and he seems to have found a plan that works.
"Pinch-hitting is pretty tough, so you kind of go up there with no expectations. I think that kind of helps," Moran said. "There's only one goal, to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it. That's all you can control when you pinch-hit. I think that helps."
Williams is the only pitcher in the Majors this season to make at least 11 starts of at least five innings without allowing a run. He has also made 10 scoreless starts of at least six innings, including four of his past five outings. He is the only Pirates pitcher since 1908 to accomplish that feat.
HE SAID IT
"It happens over time. It could have completely crippled me earlier in my career. It crippled me in college my junior year. You're continuing to find out what makes you tick the best. We could be having a different conversation a year from now or in the offseason. Right now, I'm going to continue to use that fear of losing my job and not helping the team win every five days as fire, continue with it for one more start and take it into the offseason." -- Williams, on using fear to his advantage
The Pirates will close out their final full homestand of the year against the Brewers on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. Right-hander Nick Kingham will start in place of Joe Musgrove, who is out for the rest of the season due to a stress reaction on the front of his pelvic bone and an abdominal wall muscle strain. Lefty Wade Miley will start for the Brewers.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.