Jerome Williams was named the fifth starter for the Angels this season despite missing all of spring training with a hamstring injury. While Williams rehabbed, Garrett Richards put himself into the conversation as a possible replacement for the journeyman righty with a strong spring, but the Halos decided that the young Richards needed a bit more seasoning at Triple-A Salt Lake, and decided to stick with Williams to fill in the back end of the rotation based almost completely on Williams’ strong finish to 2011, when he went 4-0 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in six starts.
Williams got his first start April 15 on Jackie Robinson Day against the New York Yankees in the Bronx and things could not have gone much worse. Williams got just 47 pitches into a 2.2 inning debacle in which the Yankees scored five runs on five hits en route to an easy 11-5 New York win. Williams couldn’t get anyone out as he struggled with his command in his first outing, walking three and striking out just one. Jerome would later admit that he had been a bit rattled prior to the start, and his nerves really killed him. The bad outing was all the fodder fans needed to resume the call to bring Richards up and push Williams back into a long-relief role out of the bullpen.
The Angels kept their faith in Williams, though, and he’s rewarded them for it. On April 20, Williams came home to Los Angeles and put on a good showing against the Orioles, pitching into the seventh inning, giving up just three runs on seven hits, striking out six and walking just one in a 6-3 Angels win. The showing gave Williams some reprieve from his critics calling for his job, and the Angels kept telling everyone the job was his even if he hadn’t pitched well. Some people weren’t so convinced, however, and watched intently to see how Williams pitched in his next outing against Tampa Bay. Williams obliged with another strong outing, pitching seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits, striking out another six and walking three. Williams left the game in line for his second straight win, but watched Jordan Walden serve up a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. Back-to-back solid showings for Williams, however, and the voices of some critics were quieted a little bit more.
Then came Tuesday’s start against Minnesota. Williams came out strong as he’s ever been, pitching a complete game shutout, scattering three hits, striking out six and walking just one, effectively cementing his spot in the starting rotation. The 30-year old journeyman was dominant against the Twins, throwing 75 of his 109 pitches for strikes, retiring 18 of the last 19 hitters he faced and never allowing a Minnesota hitter to get past second base. It’s just the second shutout of Williams’ career and his first since June 27, 2003, when he was with the Giants and threw a seven hit complete game against the Athletics in just his sixth career start.
There were a lot of questions about Williams’ status in the Angels rotation coming into this season. Did he deserve the spot over Richards? Should he be handed a spot without any work in spring training? Would he be able to continue his success from 2011? There were a lot of doubts, and those doubts only got louder after his start in New York. However, Williams has shown a mental toughness bouncing back and putting together back-to-back-to-back quality starts, including his gem against the Twins. He’s erased any reservations about whether or not he’ll be able to hold onto his spot in the rotation and pushed back the advances of Richards from Triple-A. At this point, Richards should get used to life in Salt Lake and enjoy life as the top rated prospect in the farm system now that Trout is with the big club. Well, at least until the Angels get tired of watching Ervin Santana lose games.