PITTSBURGH — In the Pirates’ 5-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, Trevor Williams was near his best.
The Pirates’ right-hander was using his two-seam fastball to get a ton of ground balls and get quick outs. He had a two-hitter going through six innings and one of them was a bunt infield single. At that point, he’d thrown just 77 pitches.
In the seventh inning, Williams’ day turned from excellent to troubling very quickly. He walked Hunter Pence and gave up a double to Buster Posey and was lifted before recording an out in the inning. Tony Watson came in and didn’t help matters much, giving up three singles and a sacrifice fly to yield the lead.
It was a quick end to an otherwise sparking day for Williams, who is now on something of a roll. Over his last three starts, he’s given up seven earned runs in 19 innings for a 3.32 ERA. He’s also pitched at least six innings in three straight after struggling with length when he first moved from the bullpen to the rotation back in May.
After his last start, I compared Williams to Ivan Nova and how he’s used his changeup to keep left-handers from sitting on his fastball and have success to both sides of the plate. Sunday, he did something else that Nova does: had trouble with the third time through the order.
As I wrote back in May, Nova is an interesting case study for figuring out how much the third times through the order penalty is a factor of fatigue versus some type of familiarity benefit for the hitter.
To this point, the third time through the order hasn’t been a big deal for Williams. When he was first moved to the rotation to the bullpen, it was seen as a short-term move while Jameson Taillon was on the disabled list.
When Tyler Glasnow was sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis on June 10, it came with the implication that Williams’ move would be a permanent one. Since then, he’s averaged six innings per start, which usually gets a pitcher at least involved with the third time through the order.
But coming into Sunday, Williams had actually pitched pretty well the third time he faced hitters. Opposing batters went 12 for 42 against him in those situations, for a .286 batting average and a .692 OPS against. As a starter, he’s allowed a .262 batting average and a .720 OPS against, so those numbers represent something of a mixed bag.
Manager Clint Hurdle said that the issue Sunday wasn’t so much the issue of pitching the third time through the order as it was dealing with a jam that late into his start.
“He doesn’t have a lot of experience pitching through a jam in the seventh,” Hurdle said.
Williams thinks that his ground-ball heavy style should be an advantage later into games when hitters get more aggressive.
“First time through the lineup, you’re not trying to show much, but there’s so many scouting reports nowadays where I feel that the hitters know what I’m going to throw before I throw it,” Williams said. “There’s such an information edge now. You just have to pitch to your strengths the third time through the lineup and the fourth time through the lineup. … It’s not necessarily a disadvantage but you just want to be more efficient there and make quality pitches.”
That’s the one place Williams failed on Sunday. His five-pitch walk to Pence came around to hurt him. That was Williams’ only walk of the game.
Williams isn’t regularly pitching deep enough into games for the third time through the order to be as big of an issue as it is with Nova, but as he progresses through his rookie season, it may become something to watch.
JUNE GOOD FOR JASO
John Jaso had a pretty solid month of June. He continued that hot play Sunday, going 2 for 4 with a solo home run.
In June, Jaso hit .319/.385/.660 for a 1.044 OPS. He was hitting third on Sunday and was allowed to remain in the game against a left-hander, which he rarely faces. Hurdle was rewarded for that show of faith with Jaso’s home run.
“John’s seeing the ball well,” Hurdle said. “He’s aggressive in the zone on pitches. Not just hard and some soft. He’s in a really good place. The strike zone command and the aggressiveness within it is making something happen. He’s fouling pitches off, he gets back in there and he gets a little bit better pitch to hit and he doesn’t miss it. We’re seeing some really good things from him.”
Hurdle has also been impressed by the adjustments that Jaso made since his 0 for 17 start to the season. And by that, he means, he didn’t change anything at all.
“He’s one of the few guys I’ve seen in my entire time in ball that the depth of the at-bats he had, the volume of the at-bats he had, where he was and way things were going, he didn’t change anything,” Hurdle said. “Most guys change something. Maybe it’s their shoes, socks or a bat. He changed nothing, He was just steadfast in his approach and what he believed was going to happen. He kept at it. I think in football they use the term keep chopping wood. He just kept swinging at pitches that he thought were good pitches to hit.”