Tim Benz: ‘Adapt or die’ mentality sets in for Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: ‘Adapt or die’ mentality sets in for Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams

Tim Benz
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Pirates starting pitcher Trevor Williams celebrates after striking out Cincinnati Reds’ Yasiel Puig and closing the sixth inning Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Cincinnati.

So what’s Trevor Williams going to do for an encore?

Based on his first start of 2019, maybe 2018 wasn’t his “Stairway to Heaven” after all. There still may be another high to reach.

Or, in Williams’ case, another low.

Like the stunningly low 1.38 ERA he posted after the All-Star break last season; the lowest such mark in the National League last year.

It’s fair to ask whether Williams is going to be able to replicate that productivity this season.

Let’s be honest. He probably can’t. No Pirate aside from Zane Smith posted a second-half ERA that low in the last 85 years.

But he’s off to a great start in an attempt to keep the momentum going. Williams hurled six shutout innings Sunday against the Reds in his first start of the year to earn the Pirates’ only win in three tries this season.

So what did Clint Hurdle ask of Williams this offseason to continue his upward trajectory in this, his fifth Major League Baseball season?

“I didn’t have a big ask of him,” Hurdle said of his exit interview with Williams last season. “He laid out his road map for the offseason about how he wanted to attack this season. He keeps a journal. He pays attention. He reads swings. He uses analytics. He watches video.

“I see a lot of maturity.”

One area where Williams did change his offseason approach is that he just kept throwing.

“It wasn’t like he was throwing (bullpen sessions) every day,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “But he’d go to 60 or 70 feet and keep (his arm) active, as opposed to shutting it down completely. Rest is just as good as working out. And he did that for a short amount of time. But then he kept playing catch.”

I can already hear the second-guessing. Why change anything after a season where Williams was so good? Why keep throwing after coming off a career-high 31 starts and 1701/3 innings?

“I’ve talked to guys around the league who have continued to throw in the offseason, and it is something I wanted to implement and experiment with,” Williams said. “Because every offseason is going to be different. What worked for me when I was 18 may not work for me when I am 26.”

Williams said he was playing catch two or three times a week, up to 90 feet, just to “feel his release point.” The right-hander said he shut down his arm for only four weeks this offseason. In the past, he had extended that to the six-to-eight-week range. Williams liked the results, claiming his arm “bounced back awesome.”

“But if my body feels like crap in August and September, I’ll readjust,” Williams said. “While I’m young, I’m going to lift as much as I can and throw as much as I can.”

Williams’ adjustments may not be limited to his offseason routine. He’s going to make some adjustments on the mound, as well.

As Williams pointed out, the league is doing homework on him. He needs to do homework on the rest of the league.

And himself.

“Adapt or die,” Williams said. “Is that adding a second breaking ball? Is that throwing fastballs in certain counts? Off-speed in certain counts? You have to roll with the punches. I’m going to be a different pitcher in a few months than I am today.”

Different? OK.

Just as good? Pirates fans better hope so.

Because forget about “adapt or die.” When it comes to the 2019 Pirates, they are going to “live or die” with this starting rotation.

And Trevor Williams may be the heartbeat of it.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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