Williams reverses fortune, shuts down Pirates

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Trevor Williams delivers during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Trevor Williams delivers during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

 
 
Updated 5/26/2021 10:15 PM

First, it was the Cubs' offense that came around. Then the bullpen built a brick wall around home plate.

The starting pitching was a little slow to reach expectations. But Trevor Williams was the latest Cubs starter to take a step in the right direction in Wednesday's 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh.

 

Williams (3-2) completed 6 innings with 3 hits and no walks to earn his first quality start since his Cubs debut on April 5. He hadn't even completed 5 innings in his previous four starts.

"You identify a lot of things," Williams said of his sudden turnaround. "Sometimes it's a really simple solution. You didn't throw your slider for strikes today. Obviously, they're not going to swing at it, right? That's an easy solution. Then there's, you sequenced really well and they laid off pitches. Why is that? Are you tipping early, are you showing it early?

"It's one of those things where you just have to get into your rhythm and you're trying not to overcomplicate things and sometimes it's just, 'see the sign, do the sign, get back on the rubber and execute.' "

The Cubs (26-22) have won nine of their last 12 games, 16 of the last 24 and stayed within a half-game of St. Louis for first place in the NL Central. They got all the offense they needed with a 2-run homer from David Bote in the second inning.

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Williams pitched for the Pirates for the past five seasons. He started earlier this season in Pittsburgh and it didn't go well, as he left in the fourth inning after giving up 10 hits and 5 earned runs.

"I think it all starts with the fastball, but I thought the changeup was getting some really bad swings from the left-handers today and some sliders off that," manager David Ross said. "I think the fastball is so deceptive, the other stuff really ticked up today. I loved his tempo, his aggressiveness, first pitch strikes. I thought it was a really nice performance."

Meanwhile, the Cubs' bullpen contributed three scoreless innings, running their streak to 32⅔ innings without allowing an earned run. Craig Kimbrel increased the degree of difficulty to his 11th save of the season by giving up a leadoff double to Ben Gamel before retiring the side.

It was Kimbrel's 539th career save, breaking a tie for 11th place on the all-time list with Troy Percival.

When the offense started to break out of a historically bad slump to open the season, plenty of credit went to guys like Matt Duffy, Nico Hoerner and Jake Marisnick for introducing contact to the Cubs' lineup. Now all three are on the injured list and the Cubs still had a decent day at the plate with 10 hits, two by the pitcher Williams.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"You definitely miss those guys in the lineup," Bote said. "They provide such a different aspect to the game. Obviously, they've kind of shared some of that aspect of the game with a bunch of us with the singles.

"Anytime you lose guys like that, it's going to be hard for the team to step in, but it's every night we've got to fill those shoes. Then we'll be very excited when they come back because they're just going to make this team that much more dangerous."

Rafael Ortega made his Cubs debut, starting in left field and reaching base twice on a single and a walk.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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