Like millions of others, I spent a portion of my Sunday night watching HBO’s acclaimed medieval fantasy Game of Thrones.
And because last night’s episode was so fresh in my memory, I was tempted to liken Trevor Williams’s stellar seven-inning, one-hit performance to one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons turning a hoard of enemies into ash with his incomparable fire breath.
After all, Williams is a fan of the show and did just carve through a formidable Detroit Tigers lineup like Valerian steel through mortal flesh.
But the Pirates pitcher is not quite a dragon. While his Twitter account is legendary, as a pitcher he is not an indomitable, mythical beast. He wasn’t at the top of any prospects lists, which is why Tyler Glasnow started the season in the Pirates rotation while Williams sat in the bullpen.
No, Williams’s prowess was earned through sweat, study, and perseverance. He’s less like a dragon and more like Arya Stark.
Throughout Game of Thrones, Arya has evolved from a frequently underestimated youngest daughter of a proud family into a cold-hearted, crafty killer. She has serious mistakes that have nearly killed her. She has been broken down to her very essence and rebuilt as a world-class warrior.
"A bruise is a lesson," Arya said while training. "And each lesson makes us better."
That method could easily be applied to Williams's major league career thus far.
Williams said that, when he debuted in the major leagues last season, he was trying to be something that he wasn't. He tried to do too much and, as a result, was punished for it.
The righty posted a 7.82 ERA in seven appearances in 2016. And his first start of 2017 did not go much better, when the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers punched him in the mouth and scored eight runs on seven hits in just three innings.
“I had to take a step back to square one of what makes me a good pitcher,” Williams said. “Every start, I’m recognizing early if I’m getting away from that.”
But the 25-year old learned from these mistakes and used them to better himself. Williams said that the Pirates did not promote him to be a better version of Trevor Williams. They wanted the one that they had watched succeed in the minor leagues.
Williams pitched with a confidence on Monday night that he may have not had in the beginning of his career. The right-hander brazenly challenged intimating hitters such as Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera, peppering the outside corner with sinkers before striking with a four-seamer on the inside corner.
“They’re trying to do damage,” Williams said. “They’re trying to life the ball and they’re trying to hit homers. They’re veteran hitters trying to put up crooked numbers on you.”
Even though less than 50 percent of his first pitches went for strikes and he fell into eight three-ball counts, Williams soldiered through and only allowed three baserunners. In the seventh inning, with his career-high 107th pitch, Williams blew a four-seamer past Nick Castellanos to end the inning.
Grand maester Clint Hurdle said that Monday's start was an example of "old-fashioned pitching" and reminded us of how Williams has responded to the struggles that his first full major league season has presented.
“[Williams] hasn’t backed off when he hasn’t gotten results,” Hurdle said. “He stayed steadfast to what he believes that he can do and hasn’t let some challenging times push him away.”
Since then, Williams has consistently gotten better. He has managed to whittle his ERA, which was 7.98 after that start against the Dodgers on May 8th, down to 4.17. He has gone from an emergency option in the rotation to a consistent starter all in the span of three months.
While I'm unsure if Ray Searage has a Hall of Faces like Jaqen H'ghar, Williams has undergone a pleasant transformation this season. Which is good because the Pirates will need all of the might and magic that they can muster if they're looking to conquer the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals.
Jaso hits a homer
With two outs in the seventh inning and Francisco Cervelli at bat, Adam Frazier began to take swings in the on-deck circle, seemingly waiting for his opportunity to pinch-hit for Williams, who, as previously mentioned, had battled valiantly and presumably was eager to pound pints of mead while regaling the town folk with his tales of conquest.
But when Cervelli drew a walk, it wasn’t Frazier that took his place. Instead, it was none other than John Jaso, who has collected only one hit in his past 38 at-bats.
So of course you know what happened next: Jaso hit a freakin’ dinger!
“I just knew to be ready,” Jaso said. “[The coaches] had something cooking around in their heads, I don’t know what it was. I was just ready to go up there and hit.”
During the previous at-bat, Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who was working on a fine game of his own, threw five curveballs to Cervelli. Nevertheless, Jaso went up to the plate looking for the fastball.
Instead, with the count full, Zimmermann tried to put Jaso away with a curveball that was likely targeted for the batter’s back foot but ended up floating right over the middle of the plate.
Jaso unloaded a swing that Clint Hurdle described as “beautiful” and sent the ball flying deep into the right field stands, giving the Pirates’ bullpen a three-run cushion as they completed the team’s first one-hit shutout since 2013.
“We all make mistakes,” Jaso said. “I don’t mind that [Zimmermann did].”
Despite his recent struggles, Jaso has managed to be a pretty productive pinch hitter for the Pirates this season. In 33 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, Jaso is hitting .308 with three home runs and nine RBIs. His on-base percentage is .437.