Why Did the Pirates Go With Trevor Williams For Tonight’s Start?

PITTSBURGH — When Jameson Taillon landed on the disabled list last week, the Pirates had plenty of options to replace him in the rotation.

Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, and Josh Lindblom were all pitching in Indianapolis with major-league experience. Tyler Eppler and Clay Holmes are promising prospects that have both pitched well this season.

But there wasn’t a lot of debate about who would get to start Monday in Los Angeles. The Pirates wanted to go with Trevor Williams. Williams, 25, had started his entire career before transitioning to the bullpen at the beginning of this season. He’d pitched okay in a long-relief role, posting a 5.40 ERA and a 5.31 FIP in 11.2 innings.

Typically, the move from starting to the bullpen is a one-way street, especially in the Pirates organization. The Pirates want their most talented pitchers to be starters in the minor leagues, regardless of what they project to be in the majors. As they rise through the system, they reach a point where their stuff just doesn’t play well enough to go deep into games as a starter and they’re moved to relief.

It happened at Double-A for Tony Watson and short season ball for Dovydas Neverauskas. With Williams moving to the ‘pen after losing the battle with Tyler Glasnow for the final spot in the starting rotation, it looked like that might be the case for him, as well.

But that’s not what Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington had in mind.

“He was our sixth, depth starter option for us breaking camp and he’s put himself in a position for this opportunity,” Hurdle said. “He’s got a three- or four-pitch mix that we want to see. He needs to keep being aggressive. Right now, he’s been handling the right-handers pretty well, left-handers are the ones that have dinged him a little bit. It’s a great time for him to get the ball and go.”

Williams has only made one career major-league start when he threw four innings and allowed three runs against the Cincinnati Reds as part of a doubleheader last September. But the Pirates weren’t ready to give up on him as a starter, yet.

“This is what he’s always done. There’s going to be a comfort and a commitment zone that his body is already acclimated to,” Hurdle said. “Hutchison needs to continue to pitch (in Indianapolis). Brault is in the place we thought he was last year when we called him up. He’s getting better. We want a guy that’s been in the mix. … We believe this is our best option and opportunity. Williams is ahead of Brault, ahead of Hutchison right now. Those guys stay in line, continue to pitch, provide us depth options if we need them. Williams gets the ball and shows us what he can do.”

But is it fair to ask a player that’s been pitching in long relief for a month to come out and be a successful starter? Hurdle said he thinks given Williams’ history, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. But there are different expectations.

“He’s started almost all of his career, so the hesitation part was him going to the bullpen and trying to figure that out,” Hurdle said. “We told him to go out there and hunt outs and see how far that takes him. I don’t want him to try to think, ‘I need to go five innings, I need to go six innings.’ I anticipate him to be able to throw — I’m just guessing a number — around 80 pitches. We’ll see if that works. That might be fair, that might not be. That might be too much.”

Though the move was made publicly on Saturday, Williams had been made aware as soon as Taillon reported an issue with his groin after his previous start. So he’s had time to prepare for his start like any other starting pitcher would in a five-day cycle. He last threw two innings on May 3 in Cincinnati, which will give him four days in between appearances.

“I had to be ready every night coming out of the bullpen,” Williams said. “I have four days to prepare as a starter, so my routine is different for my throwing. I’m going to treat this as a start, but it’s going to be with a reliever mentality. That’s until I get stretched out and they tell me I’m going to be starting for a while. I’m going to go about it, give it the best I’ve got that day and get to the sixth inning. … . It’s not going to take too long to get stretched out again, but it’s just getting out there every fifth day again.”

Williams said he doesn’t have a preference when it comes to starting or relieving — he just wanted to pitch at the major-league level and help the Pirates win games. When it comes to long-term plans, he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to want to know whether this will be one start or many.

“I’m thankful Clint trusts me as a starter and gave me that spot,” he said. “We’re going to go out there. Monday, I’m going to be starting. On Tuesday, we’ll reassess whether I stay in that role or if I’ll move back into the bullpen. … They didn’t tell me anything. It’ll probably be how the game is dictated. I want the to pry the ball out of my hand at the end of the game and just lay everything on the line.”

  • Why can’t anyone bunt on this team? The pitchers in particular have no reason not to be working on bunting every day since they can’t throw on many days. There is absolutely no coaching being done on base running base stealing and game awareness. There is no baseball strategy being done by this team. They are low scoring games that need to be manufacturing runs with small ball.

    • WTF does bunting have to do with games like last night’s ? nd if you don’t know why orginizations don’t have their pitchers ” working on bunting every day “, you must have missed the injury AJ Burnett had several years ago doing just that.

      • So they never work on bunting again? Please. An accident can happen at any time. If you get hurt sliding do we not slide anymore? Other teams know how to bunt. It’s not an accident.

      • thats an idiotic response.

  • The way this game turned out is typical of the Pirates season to date – poor pitching execution leading to a whopping early lead for the Dodgers (grand slam HR) while the Pirates display their feeble offense. Still early, yes, but Pirates look to be fighting to stay out of the Central basement this season taking yet another step back from last season?

  • The selection of Williams makes perfect sense w/o much need of explanation. No one in Indy is exactly lighting it up. I just hope we don’t biff too many balls behind this guy to ruin his chances of having a successful outing.

  • freddylang
    May 8, 2017 2:32 pm

    Well, it’s amazing how things can change. Glasnow looked close to being in Indy and now you might be able to say he is their third best starter. I think the most amazing thing is how many times Glasnow has walked. He walks almost as much as that dwarf that had one at bat.

  • Any thoughts on why Eppler and Holmes swapped turns in the rotation last week? At the time, it seemed like they were lining Eppler up to take Glasnow’s next start if Glasnow faltered. Seemed to suggest that Eppler was the next man up.

    • Huntington said yesterday that neither guy was ready. Their swap was unrelated to what is going on in the majors.

      • tallion maybe out longer than thought, surgery for testicular cancer. per mlb rumers.

  • Williams is good at inducing pulled groundballs, which the Pirates seem to value. Makes sense given their tendency to shift.

  • No mention was made that the Dodgers are loaded with left handed bats.

    • yup, just more of the same. not thinking a head.

    • Alan Saunders
      May 8, 2017 10:50 am

      Williams has had a reverse platoon split in the majors. Small sample size, but RHH have a .947 OPS against him; LHH have an .888 OPS.