Trevor Williams spoke softly, but with conviction and purpose, while trying to explain what has gone wrong for him this season.
He was roughed up Monday night by the Washington Nationals, lasting only the first two innings of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 13-0 loss in front of a crowd of 11,284 at PNC Park. He gave up home runs to Adam Eaton, Matt Adams and Trea Turner among the Nationals’ first 10 plate appearances, and needed 64 pitches to get six outs. He produced a stat line of eight runs, six hits (five for extra bases), three walks and a wild pitch.
The loss was the Pirates’ 28th in the past 35 games, but even that miserable stretch seemed trivial compared to the freefall Williams has experienced in the past year.
In his final 13 starts last season, he allowed 11 earned runs in 76 2/3 innings. He was one of baseball’s best pitchers.
Just this month in four starts and 18 innings, he’s surrendered 20 earned runs. Keeping him in the Pirates’ starting rotation with a season-long ERA of 5.65 would raise questions, but Williams vowed to work to get better.
“What you do if you’re a fighter, which he is,” manager Clint Hurdle said, “is you roll your sleeves up and you go back to work.”
What can he do?
“It’s video work, it’s mound work, it’s throwing, it’s brain work,” Williams said. “It’s a lot of things. We’re searching. I trust in my ability as a pitcher and as a big leaguer to find the right answer.
“We thought it could have been arm slot. We thought it could have been pitch tipping. We thought it could have been a lot of different things.
“Being a pitcher, you have to have short-term memory. I know I’m a good pitcher. I know this stretch doesn’t define me.”
Hurdle said Williams didn’t want to come out of the game, and the manager would have preferred another few innings from his starter. The game was the second in two nights when the bullpen was needed before the end of the fifth inning.
“But there comes a point in time I don’t think there’s benefit to the pitcher,” Hurdle said.
“This is a low I’ll never forget,” Williams said. “You might ask me this question two or three years from now: Could this have been a turning point? It very well could have, but bad starts are going to happen throughout your career. It’s just a matter of how you pull yourself out of it.”
Williams spent 33 days on the injured list (side strain) from mid-May to mid-June after throwing 101 or more pitches in four consecutive games. His ERA was 3.33 when he went on the IL, and he had allowed the St. Louis Cardinals only one run in a seven-inning outing. After Monday, his ERA sat at 5.65.
He said he’s healthy now, but he doesn’t deny that the time away from the game may have had some effect on how he’s pitching.
“There’s definitely a possibility,” he said. “It was my first time being on the IL. How I used my time on the IL could have been different, I don’t know, because it was my first time.
“But I’m not using that as an excuse. We’re seeking answers and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Before the injury, it was going pretty well.
“However, I’m healthy. My body feels good. It’s a game of adjustments and the league is punching back faster than ever.”
Of course, Williams isn’t the only Pirates player struggling at the moment. The batters have stopped hitting.
The Pirates have been shut out twice in the past three games and have collected only eight runs and 26 hits in the past five.
Hurdle was asked what he can say to a team in such a prolonged slump.
“We try to provide a maintenance for the grind of a season,” he said “We spoke to the team (Monday). You don’t speak to a team four times a day. I don’t think any of us like to be harped upon.
“We remind them when we think things are appropriate, especially game appropriate. The best way I have found to go about this is you pull them off individually and have conversations individually. It has much more meaning and more purpose that way.”