Williams reports to camp hoping for better results

JUPITER, Fla. – Trevor Williams faced live hitters Friday, same as other members of the Nationals pitching staff. He just happened to do it in San Diego instead of West Palm Beach, facing high school players instead of major leaguers, returning home afterward to be with his wife and his five children, the youngest of which was just born last week.

The timing of the birth of his daughter coincided with the start of spring training, not exactly ideal for someone who makes his offseason home on the other side of the country. The Nats, though, gave Williams permission to take some extra time in San Diego instead of forcing him to arrive on schedule with the rest of his teammates.

And because he still found a way to get his regular work accomplished, the 31-year-old right-hander was confident today upon reporting to camp he’s not behind everyone else.

“I feel like the only thing I was missing was the lights in the stadium and throwing to not-high school hitters,” he said with a laugh. “I feel like my body’s where it needs to be. My brain is catching up now that I’m here. My mind will be in midseason mode here soon, hopefully. I’m just glad (manager Davey Martinez) was able to let me be with my family and make sure momma and the babies were good before coming out here.”

Williams won’t immediately be thrown into the Nationals rotation. He’s scheduled to face live hitters Tuesday, then will throw a bullpen session before he’s slotted into a Grapefruit League game. That would still leave plenty of time to build up his arm heading into the season.

“I feel good. I feel like I’m ready to go,” he said. “We just went over our pitch plan, what the next week looks like for me.”

The Nationals need better from Williams this season after a disappointing 2023 in which he went 6-10 with a 5.55 ERA and league-high 34 home runs surrendered. Despite suggestions over the winter they were looking to add another veteran starter – one who theoretically could push Williams to the bullpen – they never made that move, leaving him as part of the projected Opening Day rotation.

Signed to a two-year, $13 million deal in December 2022, Williams was solid through his first two months with the Nats. In 11 April and May starts, he had a 3.93 ERA while averaging five innings per outing. He cratered the rest of the way, with a 6.55 ERA and only 4.7 innings averaged over his final 19 starts.

Williams said he took only a week off at season’s end before getting back to work. He made some mechanical adjustments he hopes will help as he enters what looks like a make-or-break year for him.

“Every offseason, you unplug a little bit, but I didn’t take too much time off,” he said. “I knew this was a big offseason for me, that I had a lot that I needed to work on to get back to where I needed to be.”

After spending the previous two seasons as a swingman for the Cubs and Mets, Williams was back to full-time starting last year. The manner in which he seemed to wear down as the season progressed suggested his arm and body weren’t used to the heavy workload.

Now, on the heels of a 144-inning season, he and the team hope he’s better positioned for sustain success through the second half.

“I really believe that,” Martinez said. “The last few years for him had been eating up innings coming out of the bullpen. It’s a different routine for him. The first half, he was OK. I think it just got on him a little bit, all the innings he had to eat. I think this year, he built himself up and he feels good. He worked on some things over the winter, as well, as far as mechanics. He’s in a good place.”

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