PITTSBURGH — Trevor Williams is a right-handed pitcher that relies heavily on his sinking, two-seam fastball. He worked that combination well on Tuesday, holding the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs on six hits over seven-plus innings in a 4-2 loss.
It’s a combination the Pirates have a lot of experience with, from Charlie Morton to Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl, many pitchers that have come through Pittsburgh’s system have that profile.
Frequently, the biggest issue those pitchers face is left-handed hitters. They plagued Morton during the early part of his career. Even in 2011 — perhaps his best with the Pirates — Morton allowed a .960 OPS against to lefties.
Kuhl’s issues with lefties have been well documented here. He’s allowed a .974 OPS against to left-handers in his major-league career.
But Nova is different. Sure, he’s better against right-handers, but lefties have managed just a .756 OPS against him this season and his career platoon split is very small — .744 against right-handers, .779 against lefties.
Nova relies heavily on his fastballs and his curveball, but when he goes up against lefties, he breaks out his changeup at a significantly elevated level. Here’s Nova pitch usage against lefties and righties. (Changeups are in orange).
Nova’s changeup isn’t anything special. It has a negative wCH value according to Fangraphs. But it’s job is to simply keep hitters from selling out against his fastball.
The path that Nova has taken is the one that Williams seems to be on. Williams uses his changeup 0.9 percent of the time against right-handers and it’s the least-used of his four offerings. Against lefties, he throws it 15.7 percent of the time and it’s the second-most used offering in his arsenal.
It seems that there’s more than just a bit of coincidence to the similarities between Nova and Williams this season. As Williams gains experience, he’s also taking things from those pitchers on the Pirates roster that have more of it than he does.
“It’s just watching the veterans do it every fifth day,” Williams said after the Pirates loss. “It’s awesome to see Nova and Gerrit (Cole) go out there every fifth day and do what they do. … There’s a lot of veterans in this clubhouse. It’s fun to watch them do what they do.”
Part of that is leaning on the changeup, which Williams now thinks is one of his better offerings in general, not just because of its own action, but because of the way it plays off his sinker.
“I would put my changeup above my slider the way it is and the way I utilize my sinker,” Williams said. “I think it’s a great pitch to throw behind my sinker. I had a lot of success with it today against (Evan) Longoria. Hit him into a double play with that and also (Logan) Morrison as well.”
CAPITALIZING ON AGGRESSION
Williams was able to use his sinker to work efficiently and deep into the game. He said the game plan was to take advantage of a free-swinging Rays team with the two-seamer to induce soft contact.
“We were forcing early contact early on,” Williams said. “The game plan was we knew they were going to be swinging at the first pitch. We wanted to attack that and get hitters out on 3 pitches or less. … It’s just pitch execution. When you know they’re swinging early, you can go from thirds and start pitching toward the black and kind of expand off that.”
Hurdle though Williams’ line could have been even more impressive if not for some tough luck. Williams gave up a run in the fourth on two weakly hit ground ball singles and a fielder’s choice.
“He gave up four base hits that weren’t even hard ground balls that found outfield grass,” Hurdle said. “Those consequences hurt, but no walks, seven strikeouts, 19 out of 26 first-pitch strikes, eight guys retired on two pitches or less, two three-ball counts. It was a really good night for him on the mound.”
The Pirates managed just two hits off Tampa starter Alex Cobb, but scored two runs in the ninth off closer Alex Colome to tie the game at 2-2. … An error by David Freese in the 10th inning allowed the winning run to score. … Josh Harrison went 2 for 3 with a walk. … Andrew McCutchen, batting third for the first time in over a month, went 2 for 4 with two RBIs. … Gregory Polanco, who had been moved down to the No. 6 spot, went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and a walk.