PITTSBURGH — Trevor Williams will start for the Pirates on Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. How many starts he has left might be in question.
Williams, a starter throughout his career, was moved into a long relief role after losing the competition for the fifth starter job in Spring Training. Then, when Jameson Taillon was diagnosed with cancer in early May, Williams was jolted right back to the rotation.
I wrote about how bouncing back and forth has affected the start to Williams season two weeks ago. Now, there may be another bump looming. Jameson Taillon made his first rehab start on Sunday and will make at least one more before rejoining the rotation, but it seems that Taillon’s return to the Pirates’ starting five will come sooner rather than later.
That leaves these final starts as something of an audition for Williams. It’s not inconceivable that he could leapfrog Tyler Glasnow or Chad Kuhl and remain in the rotation for an extended stay.
“As we get closer to that, we’ll begin to have those formal discussions,” general manager Neil Huntington said Sunday. “Obviously, we’re thinking about it in the background and we’re thinking about it internally, but not ready to being to talk about that publicly at this point.”
It would have been easy to say, “No, we decided on Glasnow and Kuhl coming out of the spring and we’re sticking with them.” The fact that Huntington wouldn’t commit to that says there’s at least a chance of Williams sticking. If he does, it won’t be because he’s been graded on a curve because of the nature of his season.
“He started his whole career before he got (to Pittsburgh), so it’s not like he’s doing something different,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The challenges are overall execution, being able to command secondary pitches in hitter’s counts. I’ve seen development. He’s gone out there in games without one of the pitches and found ways to compete. He’s been strong through five. The opportunities have been a couple times to pitch through the sixth. That hasn’t happened yet. The pitch count has been bumped up gradually so they’re still there. I think the development is in place.”
The interesting part of a decision between Glasnow, Kuhl and Williams is that the pitchers seem so similar on the surface. All are between 23 and 25 years old. All are right-handed. All throw their fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s. But there are big differences in approach, and that’s where Williams has had some of his success.
“He has a very, very solid and effective two-seam fastball,” Hurdle said. “The delivery is repeatable. I think it looks easy. It’s effortless power out of his arm. There’s a spin pitch that has played better at some times than others. Sometimes, he’s hung it, but when the slider is working it’s been a swing-and-miss pitch for him. The changeup can play to both (handed) hitters when he throws it. He can still elevate a fastball when he wants. The controlling the running game part of it is intact and in place. It’s a little different skill set. I think there’s a pitching awareness that’s a little more mature than his years. So in his case, I think that’s a strength.”
Taillon said on Sunday that he’s making at least one more rehab start, which would put his earliest possible return at June 7. But Hurdle emphasized caution in projecting for the future.
“We don’t have a timetable and we’re not going to have a timetable,” he said.
Either way, it seems likely that at some point in the month of June, one of the current five will be leaving the rotation, and what happens between now and then may have an outsized affect on who it is.
C Stewart@MeLlamoTrevor vs R. Delgado
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) May 29, 2017
Adam Frazier will get the day off after going 0 for 4 Sunday and 3 for his last 18. Hurdle citing possible fatigue as a reason for his recent slip. … With Frazier on the bench, Josh Harrison will hit leadoff. He’s riding a 10-game hitting streak. … Williams pitched collegiately at Arizona State, which is just about 10 miles from the Diamondbacks’ home at Chase Field in Phoenix.