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Williams rebounds, throws gem to nip Crew

Righty gives up just one hit over seven scoreless innings
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Last Tuesday, five starts into the worst stretch of his career, Trevor Williams stood in front of his locker and admitted his frustration. He was disappointed in himself, he said, and searching for answers.

He found them on Monday night.

View Full Game Coverage

PITTSBURGH -- Last Tuesday, five starts into the worst stretch of his career, Trevor Williams stood in front of his locker and admitted his frustration. He was disappointed in himself, he said, and searching for answers.

He found them on Monday night.

View Full Game Coverage

Williams ended his evening with his best start of the season and perhaps his young career, holding the Brewers to one hit while striking out seven over seven scoreless innings. Jordy Mercer recorded the game-winning hit against nearly unhittable reliever Josh Hader in the seventh to give Williams a well-deserved win in the Pirates' 1-0 victory at PNC Park.

"It starts with him," Mercer said. "He's the one who set the tone tonight, and we just kind of fed off him. … He was able to shine tonight, absolutely shine."

Video: MIL@PIT: Mercer rips a go-ahead RBI double in the 7th

Williams was the Pirates' best starter the first seven weeks of the season, recording a 2.72 ERA as Pittsburgh won six of his first nine starts. But his performance fell off dramatically in his five starts leading into Monday, as he posted an 8.57 ERA, opponents hit .337 against him and he completed only three innings in each of his last two outings. So Williams went to work, fine-tuning his delivery and modifying his pitch selection but never doubting himself.

"I'm going to go through a rough stretch again," Williams said. "It's about adapting and overcoming that and trusting your abilities and staying confident through it. I've learned a lot about myself as a baseball player and as a person."

The Pirates continued to express their belief in Williams, their most consistent starter in the second half last year. GM Neal Huntington offered a vote of confidence on Sunday that Williams would return to form, and manager Clint Hurdle reminded reporters after Monday's game that Williams' performance was "what we've seen from him before."

Video: MIL@PIT: Hurdle on Williams' strong outing in win

Williams tied a season high by pitching seven innings and matched a career high with seven strikeouts. He walked two and hit a batter, but the only hit he allowed came in the fourth, when Jonathan Villar knocked a two-out single to shallow center field.

"You have to adapt to how teams are hitting you and which pitch they're hitting the most," Williams said. "You have to adapt and overcome. Tonight, we were sticking with our strengths."

On Monday, that strength was his four-seam fastball to all four corners of the strike zone. According to Statcast™, 51 of his 96 pitches were four-seam fastballs -- 12 of those were called strikes -- and he mixed in 20 sliders and 12 changeups.

"We didn't take good swings at his fastball, I thought," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He's a little different pitcher than we've faced in the past, as far as his slider's improved, a little less velocity. But his fastball was a good pitch for him tonight. He made some really effective pitches with it."

Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin was equally efficient, getting through 6 1/3 innings on only 74 pitches, and carried a shutout into the seventh. After Williams' seventh scoreless inning, Josh Harrison said he approached Williams in the dugout with some encouragement: "Hey, you deserve this win when we get this run."

Harrison flies through air to make incredible play

Mercer delivered on Harrison's promise. With runners on the corners and one out in the seventh, Counsell called upon Hader to relieve Chacin. The lefty struck out Gregory Polanco, but Mercer pulled an RBI double down the left-field line to put Williams in line for his first win since May 15.

"That's the way the season is sometimes. You're going to have your ups and downs," Mercer said. "He's had his downs. Now he's working his way back up, and this is a great start."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hader-aid: With the Bucs locked in a scoreless tie with one out in the seventh inning, Josh Bell followed a Francisco Cervelli walk by singling to center field. The hit knocked Chacin out of the game and brought in Hader, who has been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball this season. Entering Monday, Hader had posted a 1.18 ERA while allowing 12 hits over 38 innings and striking out 75 of the 138 batters he'd faced.

Following a three-pitch strikeout by Polanco, Mercer connected on a 1-1 fastball and laced it to left field for a two-out double that drove in Cervelli for the lone run of the game.

"He's going to come right after you and try to get that strikeout," Mercer said of Hader. "You've just got to be ready to hit from pitch one, and hopefully you get some good wood on it. I was able to keep my hands inside the ball. He threw two back-to-back fastballs inside, and I was able to keep my hands through and shoot it down the line."

SOUND SMART
This was the Pirates' ninth shutout victory of the season, tying them with the Cubs for the most in the Major Leagues. Williams has started three of those shutouts: April 1 in Detroit (his first start of the season), May 15 against the White Sox (his last quality start) and Monday night.

Williams said he examined how teams were hitting him and which pitches they were hitting most often. In May, opponents hit .350 and slugged .550 against his sinker; in June, those numbers climbed to .500 and .750. On Monday, Williams threw only 13 sinkers, below his season average of 21.4 percent.

HE SAID IT
"Baseball kicks your [butt]. The highs are so high, and the lows are so low. You really have to be even-keeled and you have to keep that steady climb and know that I'm going to go to sleep tonight and the sun's going to come up tomorrow and we're going to have another game and another opportunity to really prove yourself and give the team a chance to win." -- Williams, on staying focused through his five-game slump

UP NEXT
Right-hander Jameson Taillon will be on the mound for the second leg of a three-game series with the Brewers at PNC Park on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Three of Taillon's past four outings have resulted in quality starts, as he's allowed eight earned runs over his last 26 1/3 innings. Freddy Peralta will start for Milwaukee.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates