ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jerome Williams spent Monday night sitting on a bench in the Angels bullpen.
He didn’t figure his season would come to this, but it has. He was demoted from the starting rotation to a relief role on Saturday, uncertain when his next chance will come.
Tuesday night would be his turn to pitch, but instead, rookie Garrett Richards will face the Kansas City Royals at Angel Stadium. Williams will wait for the phone to ring.
He had a good seat for the Angels’ 6-3 win over the Royals on Monday night, a victory that was secured when Kendrys Morales lined a bases-loaded single off the wall in right field to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning.
Williams celebrated with his teammates on the field and in the clubhouse. But he knows where he wants to be, and it isn’t in the bullpen.
“I just want to get back to where I was in the beginning part of the year, throwing the ball downhill, getting ground balls and throwing the ball at the bottom of the zone,” he said. “I’m going to the bullpen, and I think it might help get me back to where I was.”
Here’s where Williams was: On June 1, he was 6-2 with eight quality starts in his first 10 games and a 3.68 ERA. But in a span of fewer than seven weeks, he was forced to the disabled list because of a severe asthma attack and struggled in five consecutive starts.
He is 0-5 since his last win and has allowed 24 earned runs in his past 28 2/3 innings. He’s been unable to keep his pitches down in the strike zone, and that’s been his undoing.
“I was real dominant throwing down in the zone,” he said, “but in the past four starts I had the ball up in the zone a lot and I was getting hurt. That’s not how I pitch. I love throwing the ball down, getting ground balls and letting my defense work.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been up in the zone in bad counts. I’ve got to control those and get back to where I was.”
Until he does, he’s unlikely to escape the bullpen. But he also can’t prove he’s making progress unless he gets into games and starts retiring batters again.
“We’re not at a point where we can have guys working on stuff,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s going to have to find it, and when he gets his opportunity, have it ready to go. He’s going to work on it as much as he can on the side to try to find it and then bring it into games.”
It’s been a tough fall for Williams, but nothing he’s not used to. He was the feel-good story of last season for the Angels, who signed him off the roster of the independent Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League in June. He went 7-2 at Triple-A Salt Lake, was picked up by the big club in August and went 4-0 in 10 games.
Williams beat out Richards for the Angels’ No. 5 starting job last spring and started well, pitching a three-hit shutout over the Minnesota Twins in May and giving the team a deep rotation behind Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
But so much has gone wrong. First, there was the asthma attack Williams suffered on June 18 against the San Francisco Giants. He had two rehab starts that went well, but his problems persisted after he returned.
“It’s about production,” Scioscia said. “He got away from some things he needed to do on the mound as far as keeping the ball down in the zone, using his best stuff. Counts were getting away from him, and his ball was elevated. When that happens, major league hitters are going to hit it.”
None of that is lost on Williams. He knows he needs to fix things. He accepts his new role. He’s eager to get back on the mound. Now, it’s just a matter of getting a chance.
“Just pitch. That’s all I can think of,” he said. “Just try to get back to the way I was. If I have to do it in the bullpen, I’ll do it in the bullpen. If I’m in the rotation, I’ll do it in the rotation. As long as I have the opportunity to go out there and pitch and do the things I have to do to get back, I’ll do it.”