Austen Williams gets back to basics with impressive start

Photo courtesy Samuel Getty / Harrisburg Senators

Any way you cut it, Austen Williams had a pretty miserable 2016 season.

He came into the year as the Nationals’ 19th ranked prospect per Baseball America and was assigned to Double-A Harrisburg out of spring training. In ten starts with the Senators, Williams struggled to a 1-7 record with a 5.68 ERA and 1.74 WHIP before a demotion back to Potomac in early June. His return to the Carolina League wasn’t much better as he posted insignificant improvements to his numbers over the remaining 16 appearances.

But the Texas State product had a strong spring and on Sunday afternoon he showed his coaches, teammates, and the Harrisburg fans that he belongs on this pitching staff at this level. Williams tossed six stellar innings while matching a career-high in strikeouts with nine. The effort earned him his first win of the season in the Senators’ 6-2 victory over the Altoona Curve.

“It was pretty impressive what he was able to do today,” pitching coach Chris Michalak said. “He moved the fastball around, mixed in his change-up and his breaking ball. He did a really good job.”

“For me, it was his best outing in Double-A,” manager Matt LeCroy added.

Williams made some adjustments in the off-season, but the biggest thing is a different mindset for the 6’3″ right-hander. “From experience, you learn over failures and successes you have that sticking to your strengths is really the biggest key if you want to do well,” he said. “I just did a good job of sticking to what I do well which is throwing fastballs down in the zone and throwing strikes. I was able to do that most of the game.”

Michalak echoed his pupil’s sentiments: “It’s trouble when they try to do something that they’re not capable of like gaining four miles per hour or two feet of break on a pitch instead of just locating their pitch. It’s all part of the learning process.”

Williams did a masterful job living around the knees with all of his pitches especially his fastball as he induced six ground ball outs. “When he’s down in the zone, he’s got good sink and it has late action so it’s tough for guys to square up the ball,” Michalak said.

After posting zeroes in the first five frames, the Curve finally got to Williams for two runs on three hits and a hit batsman in the top of the sixth inning. But even then, Williams managed to compose himself and strand runners on second and third as he got the next two batters to strike out and fly out to end the threat. “Even in the sixth when he ran into trouble, he only gave up two and did a nice job keeping us in it,” LeCroy said. “He made pitches to get out of it and we were able to come back and score some runs to get him that win.”

Last season with his confidence badly shaken, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Williams keeping a watchful eye on the dugout expecting his manager to rescue him from a similar situation. Williams made it pretty clear with his performance that this is a new year with new results.

“We protected him last year and now it’s time to go and see what you can do,” LeCroy said. “That’s part of development.”

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