It was tough not to snicker with skepticism when the Phillies claimed Jerome Williams off waivers earlier this month. After all, the 32-year-old right-hander had a 6.71 ERA in stints with the Astros and Rangers this season.
“We don’t have starting pitching depth,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said after picking up Williams. “We traded Roberto (Hernandez). Cliff (Lee) is down. We’re seeing if (Williams) is better than what we have. We’re looking for starting pitching that can help us.”
So far, Williams has helped the Phillies more than anyone expected.
The veteran right-hander pitched eight innings of one-run ball in leading the Phillies to a 7-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park Sunday afternoon (see Instant Replay).
The Phils took two of three from the Cardinals and have won back-to-back series for the first time since April. There’s a little good news and a lot of bad news in that achievement.
In three starts with the Phils, Williams has allowed just four runs in 20 1/3 innings. Over his last two starts, he has given up just two runs in 15 innings.
“I’m getting a new opportunity to come over here and do my job,” Williams said. “My stuff has been there all season, I just wasn’t using it right. I think now I’m using all my pitches in every part of the zone. I’m mixing speeds instead of being a one-dimensional pitcher.”
There’s more than a month of baseball left in this dreary season and the Phillies are in full evaluation mode. The team will look to build up the back half of its starting rotation this winter. Williams could make himself attractive to the Phils if he continues to pitch well.
“He’s making a good showing,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He could be (a consideration for 2015). We’ll have to continue to watch him.
“Based on what I’ve seen, it’s seems like he’s been excited to join our team and work with our catchers.”
Williams has been around for a decade and pitched for seven different teams so he’s not fretting his future. He knows the state of pitching in the game. Even with his struggles earlier this season — they happened mostly in Houston’s bullpen — he knows he’ll have a job in 2015 if healthy.
“I’m just trying to pitch to do well now,” Williams said. “What happens next year happens. I’m not thinking about the offseason. I’m thinking about this time right now and finishing strong. You don’t want to end the season with the taste of not finishing strong.”
Williams enjoyed throwing to Carlos Ruiz in his previous start. On Sunday, he was reunited with Wil Nieves, whom he had thrown to in winter ball in Puerto Rico in 2008.
Nieves was impressed with Williams’ cutter.
“He did not have that (in 2008),” Nieves said. “He did a great job staying ahead of the hitters and throwing strikes.”
In his eight innings of work, Williams scattered five hits, walked three and struck out five.
“He was outstanding mixing his fastball, two-seamers and cutters,” Sandberg said.
Of course, it helped that Williams was able to pitch with an early lead. The Phillies sacked St. Louis starter Justin Masterson for five runs in the first three innings. One of those runs scored on a successful safety squeeze bunt by Williams. Later in the game, Jimmy Rollins belted a two-run home run.
Leadoff man Ben Revere scored two runs for the Phillies and singled home one against Masterson. Revere also walked against Masterson. It was his first walk since July 4, a span of 42 games and 171 plate appearances.
Ten days before the Phillies picked up Williams on waivers, the Cardinals acquired Masterson in a trade with Cleveland. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 7.43 ERA in five starts since joining the Cardinals.