After late arrival, Williams efficient in spring debut

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Trevor Williams was 11 days late in reporting to Nationals spring training. But he had permission from the team with instructions on how to keep himself ready for when he did get to camp.

The 31-year-old right-hander didn't arrive in West Palm Beach until Feb. 25, instead staying home in San Diego to be with his family following the birth of his fifth child. Leading up to his departure from the West Coast, Williams was prepping for major league spring training by facing high school hitters.

After facing live big league hitters and throwing a bullpen session last week, Williams, seeking to maintain his spot in the Nationals rotation as the fourth or fifth starter, was finally ready to make his 2024 Grapefruit League debut this afternoon in what would be a 1-0 win against the Cardinals in a quick 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Aiming for 35-40 pitches in two innings, Williams impressed while making quick work of his two frames on an efficient 27 pitches, 20 thrown for strikes.

“The goal going into it was just to come out healthy,” Williams said at his locker after throwing 15 more pitches in the bullpen following his departure from the game. “At this point of spring training, we want to get as much volume as possible. So thankfully, we're able to get two full innings today. I was able to throw about 15 more in the bullpen to get that volume up. I think it was successful in that sense.”

He struck out Brendan Donovan, got Jordan Walker out on a dribbler in front of the plate and struck out Nolan Gorman to start the game. He needed only 12 pitches, 10 of which were strikes, to complete the first inning.

Williams then got Nolan Arenado to ground out to third, surrendered a double to Wilson Contreras, struck out Matt Carpenter and got Alex Burleson to ground out to shortstop in a 15-pitch second frame.

Is there such a thing as being too efficient?

“I'd rather be too efficient than not efficient,” Williams said with a laugh. “So what we wanted to do today was get as much volume as we could. We successfully got two full innings, and then was able to sit down and go up for that third inning. So it was successful. We were able to pound the strike zone, we were able to throw everything that we wanted to throw today, and thankfully we came out unscathed.”

After a conversation with pitching coach Jim Hickey, it was decided that Williams’ production in the game was good enough and he could finish his day in the bullpen.

“Today is all about pitch efficiency. Very good, very good,” manager Davey Martinez said after the shutout victory. “They all attacked the strike zone today. It was awesome. Williams was good. The changeup. He developed a changeup and he wanted to throw it and it worked really well. That's good. Good first outing.”

Williams is looking for better and more consistent results this season after struggling to a 6-10 record, 5.55 ERA and league-high 34 home runs surrendered in 2023. Now in the second year of his two-year, $13 million deal with the Nationals, Williams has to rediscover and maintain the solid results he produced in the beginning of last year and avoid another second-half regression.

“Believe it or not, there's a lot of positives that we can take away from what we did collectively and what I did last year individually,” Williams said. “To use last year as a kind of launching pad to this year and to my training this offseason to my throwing program this offseason, it sets me up to be able to provide quality innings 32-plus starts this year.”

“I think a lot of it has to do (with) one, he needs to get ahead. He can't fall behind,” Martinez said. “Two is understanding his sequences and what he wants to do with each hitter. You're not gonna beat these guys with his fastball because he's only throwing 88 to 90 (mph). So he's got to think differently. So I think last year it really helped him understand who he is. I think he's gonna be a lot better. Plus, he ran out of gas last year. I mean, first time he's done it in a while, so I think getting that under his belt this year he might be better.”

The Nationals never did acquire another major league starter. But they have in-house candidates Jake Irvin, Jackson Rutledge and Joan Adon, plus veteran Zach Davies on a minor league deal all competing for the last two spots in the rotation. That could be reduced to one open spot in June, when top prospect Cade Cavalli is expected back from Tommy John surgery.

“I'm thankful that Davey stuck with me last year,” Williams said. “And knowing too that like, 'Look, you're gonna be here next year. We want you to be the guy.' I think I ended up with, like, (144) innings, whatever it was. Going from 145 last year, we have the ability to push it to 185 to 190, which is where I want to be at. That's what I prepared for this year, this offseason, and I'm thankful that we were able to achieve at least that goal last year.”

* Seven Nationals relievers followed Williams to complete the shutout.

Tanner Rainey pitched a scoreless third inning with two strikeouts in relief of the starter. The frame also included a bunt single, stolen base, throwing error by Keibert Ruiz, walk and wild pitch.

Derek Law, Richard Bleier, Robert Gsellman, Jacob Barnes, Luis Perdomo and Joe La Sorsa followed with their own scoreless innings. Bleier impressed Martinez with his speed on the mound, while La Sorsa now leads the majors with three saves in spring training.

“I don't think Bleier likes being out there,” Martinez said. “So he just pumps strikes, which I love. I really do. I told him that when he was with the Marlins.”

* James Wood, batting second and playing left field for the first time, pulled a single off Sonny Gray on a 1-2 count during his first at-bat, struck out in his second and popped out to short in his third. He's now 9-for-19 (.474) this spring.

He also made three plays in left before departing the game after the sixth inning.

* The only run of the game came in the fourth inning on a Ruiz sacrifice fly.

Lane Thomas walked to lead off the frame, Jesse Winker also drew a walk two batters later, and Joey Meneses hit an infield single to third base to load the bases and set up Ruiz’s RBI.

* Elijah Green, a minor league call-up for the game, took an at-bat in the bottom of the eighth and struck out looking against Cardinals minor league right-hander Ryan Loutos.

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