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Pregame: Pirates turn to Trevor Williams to right the ship

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Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Back at PNC Park again.

First, I'd like to thank Kurt Hackimer for covering many of the home games while I was away in Maine. Don't worry, he'll be back and we'll share the duties the rest of the way.

I have to admit not following the team as closely as I would have liked over the past few months. Most of the baseball I watched was over at my parents, and my dad felt compelled to submit us to the torture of viewing the Tigers bullpen implode night after night after...

When I left Pittsburgh, I fully expected to return to a bunch of new faces in the clubhouse. In particular, I thought I'd seen the last of Andrew McCutchen. But there he was zooming into the clubhouse on his scooter, stopping to look at the bright yellow caps the team will be wearing in Williamsport and making Gregory Polanco giggle about something. I didn't expect Gerrit Cole to be gone and I'm glad he's not. Any talk of that was silly to my way of thinking. With Cole in the fold, and guys like Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon gaining a year's worth of experience, the staff looks to be an absolute strength heading into next year and beyond.

Looking ahead to tonight's game, it goes without saying the Pirates are wobbling on the precipice of viability and absolutely need a series win against the Cardinals. The pleasantly surprising Trevor Williams takes the mound to stop the bleeding.

It'll be interesting to get a look at Williams, as he seems to have discovered an ability to throw a ton of ground balls suddenly and it's led to some nice results. Since the All Star break the right-hander has the third highest ground ball rate amongst qualified starters, 58.7 percent. He is also tied for the fewest home runs allowed since the break (1) and posting a solid 2.95 ERA. The source of the ground ball success appears connected to his two and four-seam fast balls. Since June 27, Williams four-seamer has induced 61.2 GB% compared to 43.6% over his first 15 appearances. Additionally, the two-seamer GB% has spiked to 71.1% from 59.4% over his last nine starts.

"A confluence of things have come together for him," Clint Hurdle said of Williams. "He's got positive feedback on the two-seamer. The two-seamer is real. And when he can keep it down in the zone, the opportunity to get ground balls is enhanced."

Since the All-Star break Williams fastball repertoire has saved 11.3 runs compared to league average, good for second in that category amongst qualified starters. According to Hurdle, the fastball and slider are working together to put the right-hander in a really good place.

"The ability to X the ball, with the two-seamer down-and-in and the slider down and away has opened up the bottom of the zone for him," Hurdle said. "It's led to some nice mishits, some soft contact. I think he's got evidence that shows him, ‘you know, I think I can do this at this level against good hitters.'"

Cervelli's return unknown; LeBlanc to the disabled list

Hurdle didn't any information about when Francisco Cervelli might be ready to return.

"We don't have a timetable, we're just going to wait for the injury to calm itself down so we can be proactive with it."

The Pirates also announced that Wade LeBlanc has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a quad strain. Steven Brault is expected to be recalled.

...

It's certainly nice to be back at the park. It's a brilliantly sunny evening, the city is sparkling and the expanse of perfectly manicured field is working its charms. If only for a few hours, this place promises to provide some much needed relief from the anxieties of our time.