Williams 'ready to go'; 'pen seeks to improve

July 21st, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Not long after walking off the mound Monday night at Progressive Field, Trevor Williams made it clear he’s ready for the real thing.

Williams gave up two hits and struck out one batter as he was charged with one run over 2 2/3 innings in his final tune-up outing of Summer Camp. The right-hander welcomed the opportunity to face a different team after only facing his teammates in intrasquad games over the last three weeks, but he quickly shifted his focus to starting the Pirates’ second game of the season on Saturday at Busch Stadium.

“Once we get the competitive juices flowing pitching against another team, that's when all the switches are flipped,” Williams said. “I think we had enough time in our three-week buildup to get everybody ready. I feel ready to go. I think everybody feels ready to go, and there's just extra buzz in the clubhouse the other day and today, especially, on the road.”

Williams got a taste of real competition in the Pirates’ 11-7 loss to Cleveland on Monday. The first batter he faced, Cesar Hernandez, saw 12 pitches before hitting a single to center field. Williams retired the Tribe’s next seven hitters, gave up a double to Bradley Zimmer, then exited after a seven-pitch lineout by Hernandez.

Williams threw 55 pitches, including 37 strikes, while using everything in his arsenal. He even threw six curveballs, getting four called strikes with that pitch, after using it only six times during the 2018 season and 21 times last year. He hopes to use it more often and more effectively this season.

“We were able to execute it in situations where we wanted to execute it and get a feel for it early in the game, both from the windup and the stretch,” Williams said. “We’re gonna see how it [works] as a weapon for me. It could change [from] start to start. It just kind of depends on what our scouts tell us.”

Rough night in relief
Pittsburgh’s bullpen struggled to contain Cleveland’s lineup the rest of the night. Right-hander Chris Stratton gave up two runs on four hits while recording four outs. Richard Rodriguez, one of the team’s high-leverage options, allowed four runs on three hits, including two homers. Michael Feliz served up a home run in the sixth inning, right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas surrendered two runs in the seventh and Jake Bauers took Robbie Erlin deep in the eighth.

Combined with the bullpen’s struggles in Saturday’s exhibition opener, it wasn’t a great boost of confidence for a relief corps that lost reliever Edgar Santana to a suspension and hasn’t had closer Keone Kela in camp. It’s too early to be worried, but manager Derek Shelton acknowledged that getting relievers into midseason form will be a challenge – and it could take another week or two before those pitchers are totally comfortable.

“One concern [that] is going to go throughout the league, not just here, is making sure your relievers stay ramped up. It’s good for our guys to get work,” Shelton said. “We saw those guys in the middle against some really good hitters. When we didn’t execute pitches, they put really good swings on them. Some of that has to do with the fact that the guys hitting in the middle of their order are really good.”

Around the horn
No. 2 prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes took the field at PNC Park for a light workout on Monday, Shelton said. Hayes had missed all of Pittsburgh’s Summer Camp workouts after testing positive for COVID-19, a diagnosis Shelton revealed on Sunday afternoon. To return to camp, Hayes had to test negative twice at least 24 hours apart and be cleared by doctors.

Hayes likely missed too much time in camp to have a shot at cracking the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, but his return is nonetheless a bit of welcome good news for both the third baseman and his team.

• Phillip Evans, Guillermo Heredia, Josh Bell and Colin Moran all went deep in the Pirates’ loss to Cleveland on Monday night. Evans pulled a two-run shot to left-center. Heredia went deep to the opposite field against starter Mike Clevinger, an encouraging sign for a player who might break camp as the regular right fielder. Bell smashed an opposite-field shot of his own off left-hander Brad Hand, then Moran clobbered a ball to center field off righty Adam Cimber.

“Us hitting coaches like offense,” Shelton quipped. “Managers, not so much.”

• Asked about the potential impact of sharing PNC Park with the Blue Jays this season, Shelton said he didn’t think it would affect the Pirates because the Jays would only play in Pittsburgh on days the Pirates were off or on the road.

“If it’s a situation where they need someplace to play, and we can help out, then I think we should,” Shelton said. “I do feel that Major League teams should play in Major League ballparks, and if it works out way above my pay grade that they figure it out, then I think it would be cool.”

Williams offered a similar opinion, acknowledging that it would be a “severe disadvantage” for Toronto to not have a home ballpark all season.

“They're in a really tough spot. I think the entire league wants them to have a home. If they want to make the North Shore their home for 2020, by all means, if that ends up happening,” Williams said. “It's just going to be a few extra precautionary steps with our health protocol and with our staff. It’ll be a busy, busy summer at PNC Park.”