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Williams' stellar start a relief in loss

@adamdberry
August 6, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- With their losing streak dragging on and their bullpen buffeted by injuries, Trevor Williams gave the Pirates the start they needed on Wednesday night at PNC Park. But Pittsburgh’s lineup couldn’t support the club’s longest outing of the season, managing only three hits against local product Randy Dobnak,

PITTSBURGH -- With their losing streak dragging on and their bullpen buffeted by injuries, Trevor Williams gave the Pirates the start they needed on Wednesday night at PNC Park.

But Pittsburgh’s lineup couldn’t support the club’s longest outing of the season, managing only three hits against local product Randy Dobnak, and the bullpen couldn’t keep it close in a 5-2 loss to the Twins. The Pirates, who have now dropped seven consecutive games, are 2-10 with 20 percent of this shortened season in the books.

Box score

Williams delivered the rotation’s best performance of the season, but it was an otherwise familiar story for the Pirates: What little offense they produced came too late, and their depleted bullpen could not contain one of the Majors’ best lineups. So in the end, Williams’ excellent outing served only as a silver lining.

“It’s easy to say we’re struggling offensively, and I’m not going to shy away from that. We are,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s really a small sample, but like we’ve talked about, it gets magnified. We have to get better. We’re going to continue to work on it. Once it gets rolling, it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Williams was fun enough to watch in his own right as he went back and forth with Dobnak in his third start of the season.

Williams was charged with the loss, but he was hardly at fault for the outcome. The right-hander almost flawlessly executed his game plan to silence a powerful Twins lineup as he fired fastballs up in the zone, buried breaking balls and baffled Minnesota’s left-handed hitters with well-located changeups down and away.

Williams, who allowed only three hits and a walk while striking out five, said he learned a lot from watching Derek Holland’s effective start against Minnesota on Monday.

"Gave me a lot of good info that, if you continue to pound the zone, we're going to put them on their heels,” Williams said. “You tip your hat to Dobnak as well because he was doing the same thing. When two pitchers get rolling like that, it makes for a fun pitching matchup.”

The most recent Pirates pitcher to work seven innings? That would be Williams, who did so in another loss on Sept. 29, the final game of last season. And Pittsburgh desperately needed that kind of length from one of their starting pitchers, especially on the day they lost high-leverage reliever Nick Burdi to a season-ending elbow injury.

"For what [Burdi has] gone through and what he's done to get back in a big league uniform on the field, the amount of work that he puts in in his craft, to hear that was crushing,” Williams said. “As a group of guys, we're going to have to pick each other up. We know we need to do that. We know that we're playing for each other, and we know that despite our record, our clubhouse is good. We know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, and we know that we're continuing to fight, continuing to push forward and move forward.”

The lone run Williams allowed came in the second. Jake Cave was hit by a slider, moved to second on a Luis Arraez groundout and scored when Marwin Gonzalez dropped a bloop single directly on the chalk line in left field. The RBI single was initially ruled foul but overturned after a replay review.

Between the third and the seventh innings, Williams retired 13 batters in a row. The first two hits he allowed came with a combined exit velocity of 98 mph. The Twins’ only other hit off Williams was a seventh-inning double from Arraez, and Williams bounced back to strike out Mitch Garver with his 98th and final pitch.

“Wow,” Shelton said afterward. “He was really good.”

Reliever Geoff Hartlieb worked a scoreless eighth inning, then Dovydas Neverauskas allowed an RBI single to Gonzalez and a three-run homer to Max Kepler in the ninth that put the game out of reach.

One run was enough for Dobnak, the South Park native making his first “home” start, as he limited the Pirates to two infield singles and Josh Bell’s fourth-inning double off the wall in left. Bell’s hitting was the lone positive development for Pittsburgh’s scuffling lineup, as he capped his three-hit day with a two-run homer to center in the ninth off reliever Jorge Alcala.

“When things are going right, I can drive the ball to all fields, and especially drive the ball in the air with backspin,” Bell said. “It seems that, as of late, things have been top-spun and side-spun to the right side of the field. So just to stay through balls like I did tonight is a good sign of things coming.”

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