In talking about what the Washington Nationals were looking for from their September call-ups earlier this week, first-year manager Davey Martinez said, “We’re trying to get whatever guys we need to help, and also too some guys that deserve to be here because they’ve had an unbelievable year. I’d like to give those guys a chance.”
Austen Williams likely checked both boxes, offering the big league club potential length out of the bullpen as a starter-turned-reliever who’s stuff ticked up in transitioning to relief work exclusively this season, and the Nationals’ 2014 6th Round pick posted a 1.39 ERA, a 1.41 FIP, 11 walks (2.15 BB/9), and 69 Ks (12.02 K/9) in 24 games and 51 2⁄3 innings pitched at Double-A Harrisburg and put up a 0.55 ERA and 1.62 FIP, four walks (2.20 BB/9) and 20 Ks (11.02 K/9) in 16 1⁄3 IP at Triple-A Syracuse before he got the call to the majors on Saturday afternoon, earning an opportunity to show what he can do over the next month.
The Chiefs’ coaching staff apparently decided on a roundabout, humorous way of informing the 25-year-old that he was getting the call to join the big league club.
“They had the strength coach come in ... he said he had offseason stuff for me and just kind of guided me around and just like a little goose chase and then took me into the manager’s office and that’s when they told me.”
His reaction to getting the call?
“I think I just put my face in my hands,” Williams said. “I don’t know, it was surreal. It was just something I’ve dreamt about for a really long time, so it was awesome.”
He said he also embraced the transition from starting to relieving when the Nationals made the decision to try something different.
“I mean, I was pretty excited when they told me because if you look at the numbers I wasn’t doing very well as a starter,” he explained, “so you try to find what you’re good at and I think that was a good idea, and obviously served to really help my career.”
The difference Williams said, is that relief work allowed him to simplify things, focus on his best pitches and go all out when he does get in the game.
“Transitioning to the bullpen I think just fits my pitching style better,” he said. “Being able to focus on two pitches, which has been fastball/slider, so I think I’ve had a velocity spike too, which has kind of helped and I think just figuring out some things over the years and just finally put it all together.”
Martinez got a positive scouting report on the right-hander as well, when he reached out to the Chiefs’ skipper, Randy Knorr.
“He’s been pitching really well,” Martinez said before the series finale with Milwaukee.
“I talked to Randy today and he said [Williams’] fastball’s up to 96 at times. He can throw multiple innings, and has a really good curveball, so talked to him today, he came in my office today, and he’s kind of a unique kid, so I’m looking forward to watching him pitch.
“But I heard he’s done well and it’s well-deserved, congratulations to him for being here.”
Williams struck out the first batter he faced, Mike Moustakas, with an 0-2 curve in the dirt, and worked around a walk in a 21-pitch sixth, then tossed a scoreless 12-pitch seventh.
“He did really well,” Martinez said after the game, “but I asked him after he came out, I said, ‘How’d you feel?’ and he looked at me and said, “I couldn’t feel the baseball...’ so I was like, ‘Ooo-kay,’ but I said, ‘But hey, you did good.’”
“Real good curveball, and his ball is sneaky,” Martinez continued. “Pitches at 92-93, and then you watch him throw with two strikes, he got up to 96, yeah, and the ball is kind of explosive.”
“He threw a four-seamer at 96, two-seamers were 92-94. But I liked what I saw, I really did, I mean, the curveball plays.”