PITTSBURGH -- After lasting only two innings in his start against the Nationals on Monday, Trevor Williams stood in front of his locker without many answers. He was 10 starts into a brutal slump, and the only silver lining was that it might be over.
“Hopefully,” Williams said then, “tonight is the bottom.”
Williams started to climb out of it Saturday night, shutting down the Reds over six efficient innings, and the Pirates’ lineup took care of the rest in a 14-0 victory at PNC Park. After struggling for the last two months, Williams looked much more like himself -- a lot like when he was one of baseball’s best second-half pitchers a year ago.
“It seemed like the Trevor of old,” first baseman Josh Bell said.
It’s been a while since the Pirates could say that. Williams entered the night with an 8.03 ERA since returning from the injured list on June 19. He gave up 16 home runs in his last 10 starts, one more than he allowed in 31 outings last year. Those struggles created one more unexpected question in a rotation full of uncertainty heading into next season.
Between starts, Williams went to work. He said that he developed bad habits while throwing over the past few months, and those flaws crept into his mechanics. So he went “back to basics,” he said, cleaning up his delivery and getting back to what made him successful in the past.
“I would have loved to be 100 percent, but I thought I was about 95 percent with what I was trying to do out there in terms of my delivery and my execution,” Williams said. “It’s a steppingstone, which is definitely a good start to build upon.”
Williams pounded the bottom of the strike zone with his sinker and slider, and he threw his four-seam fastball up in the zone when necessary. He allowed only three hits -- two of them by opposing starter Alex Wood -- and one walk while striking out three.
“Proud of him, because it had been hard for a while,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He went out and regained some form tonight.”
Maybe all he needed to get right was another matchup with the Reds. Williams improved to 5-0 with a 1.22 ERA in his last six starts against Cincinnati. He has made two scoreless starts this season -- his first of the year on March 31 in Cincinnati, and his latest start Saturday night.
“Just a guy that really knows how to pitch,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s pitched well against us in the past, so he continued to do that today.”
Or maybe he needed a defensive spark like the one Pablo Reyes provided after Williams’ first pitch of the game. Josh VanMeter led off with a line drive to right field, but Reyes -- fresh off his first career walk-off hit Friday -- laid out to make a diving catch. In the clubhouse after what turned out to be a rout, the Pirates acknowledged Reyes’ play as a turning point.
“If he doesn’t have that break, if he doesn’t have that catch, and that ball gets by him, there’s a runner on third base with nobody out,” Hurdle said. “Here goes Trevor, rolling his sleeves up and going to work.”
The Pirates kept playing clean defense behind Williams. Jose Osuna, Kevin Newman and Bell turned a double play to end the second inning, then Newman reached out to snag Phillip Ervin’s grounder to start a double play in the third inning. Solid glovework and soft contact helped Williams retire 10 of the final 11 hitters he faced.
The Bucs’ bats then put the game out of the Reds’ reach with their largest margin of victory of the season, a welcome respite amid a 10-30 skid since the All-Star break.
After managing only two runs through five innings, the Pirates put the pressure on Wood with two walks to begin the sixth. With runners on the corners, Wood uncorked a curveball that hit Josh Bell on the foot and loaded the bases. Osuna then pushed one run across with an infield single.
Up came pinch-hitter Colin Moran, batting in place of Reyes with the bases loaded. Moran unloaded on a 2-2 curveball from reliever Lucas Sims and sent it sailing into the right-field seats to put the Pirates comfortably ahead, 7-0.
“I didn’t think. I just went up there and hit,” Moran said. “When you come off the bench, it’s like, ‘All right, try to hit a pitch, hit it hard and see what happens.’ That was kind of my thinking going in.”
It was Moran’s 12th home run of the season and his first since July 29, when he also hit a grand slam against the Reds.
It was also the fourth career grand slam for the second-year third baseman nicknamed “Redbeard.” That gave Williams an idea for next year’s Players’ Weekend.
“I feel like he’s always pinch-hitting with the bases loaded and he’s always hitting grand slams,” Williams said. “He needs to change his Players’ Weekend name next year to ‘Grand Slam Moran.’”