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Washington Nationals’ 2023 Rotation: Trevor Williams happy to be starting again in D.C.

Trevor Williams signed a 2-year deal with the Nationals after a season and a half as a swing man with the Mets...

“We’ve got some starters already in our rotation, but we don’t feel like we have enough,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters at the Winter Meetings last week, reiterating the message he’d been sending since the end of the 2022 season about where the club and their front office would focus when it came to building for 2023.

“As the season goes along, things happen. We do need, especially if we can get another veteran starter, it will be great, one or two,” Martinez added.

Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, and Cade Cavalli figure to be part of the big league rotation, but both Martinez and GM Mike Rizzo stressed last week the need to find other arms who could help out in the rotation (and/or in long relief roles).

“I talked to [Rizzo] about it, and as you guys know, I truly believe in starting pitching, and that’s what we’re looking to do right now,” Martinez said.

“Right now we’re looking at a lot of different options, a lot of different guys. Definitely want a guy that we know that could give us some innings. We need a guy that could give us 160 to 180 innings, and those are the guys we’re looking at right now.”

“We think starting pitching is something that we’re looking for,” Rizzo said, while also listing an offensive addition or two as other obvious needs.

“You never have enough depth,” he reasoned when it comes to pitching.

“We’re just always looking to upgrade. We’re not going to add something that’s not an improvement, but we are looking to upgrade the starting pitching most prominently.”

Shortly after the Winter Meetings concluded, the club announced they’d signed veteran right-hander Trevor Williams to a 2-year/$13M deal, adding the starter/reliever to the mix, after a season and a half in New York and a 2022 campaign in which he made nine starts and 30 appearances overall, with a solid 3.21 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, 23 walks, 84 strikeouts, and .253/.307/.413 line against over 89 2⁄3 IP.

Williams has thrown as many as 170 23 IP before in a season, when he started for the Pirates in 2018, but has been back and forth between the bullpen and rotation since, with a total of 90 appearances and 61 starts since 2019.

What role will the 30-year-old starter (who’ll turn 31 next April) fill with his new ballclub? Did the Nationals give him a clear idea how they intended to use him before/when he signed?

“The clarity when we talked was that I will be in the rotation,” Williams told reporters in a Zoom call on Monday afternoon.

“I have the ability to do both, but to add some stability to the rotation and be able to post up 30+ times a season I think is something that is going to be asked of me to do.

‘And that’s why it was a tremendous opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to doing that.”

“I was more than thrilled that Mike Rizzo was able to trust me in being able to post up for the next two years in the rotation,” Williams added at another point, noting that he would prefer to start, having had a taste of the relief life in recent years, after he’d started 94 of 106 games he appeared in to begin his career.

This winter was Williams’ second experience of free agency, and he said it was stressful, yes, though this time around he was in a better situation.

“I was in a much better position this time when I was a free agent than I was last time, when I got designated by the [Pittsburgh] Pirates, but it’s funny, just watching guys come off,” the free agent market, he said, “... it was stressful for me because I’m not a guy — but we, it was a little stressful for me, but I was glad that we had a few hits with other teams so we knew that there was going to be some other options.

“It was just a matter of how much a team valued me and what role it was going to be.”

Getting the opportunity to start again with the Nationals made a difference for Williams.

“I’ve always been starter for my entire career, until I was traded,” from the Chicago Cubs he signed with in free agency in 2020-21 to the Mets he pitched for as a swing man and some-time starter for the 2021-22 campaigns, Williams explained.

“I kind of had to learn on the fly with the Mets, learning how to swing, how to go multiple days off without throwing, how to cover innings, and I liked the role. I did. Especially doing it for that team last year. I was glad that Buck [Showalter] trusted me in that spot. But as far as the preference goes, I like preparing for my one day every five days. I love watching the other starting pitchers from the side and not from the bullpen. I love being in a rotation and posting up for those five guys. It’s something that I’ve always loved to do. My preparation — I didn’t like preparing for games last year, preparing for series, and then not being able to pitch. So, for me, to prepare every five days knowing that it is my day, and it’s my day to go to work is something that I’m looking forward to.”

In 621 23 IP as a starter in his career, Williams has a 4.33 ERA, a 4.52 FIP, 2.87 BB/9, 7.12 K/9, and a .263/.324/.442 line against (as compared to a 3.84 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.17 BB/9, 9.42 K/9, and a .272/.337/.424 line against over 93 23 IP as a reliever).

“There’s a lot of things that you value in free agency, and I think every player it’s different,” Williams said, and for him it was the Nats wanting him as a starter (on a two-year deal).

“You know, I’m not a trophy fish,” he said, offering a fair assessment of his own value.

“I’m not someone where I’m going to have the choice to go — and you have 15-20 teams that want your services.

“I was really thankful for this opportunity. For them to tell me we want you to post up. That was something I really valued. Pitching against the Nationals for the last two years, you can tell that there are a lot of young hungry guys and that it’s a good, young squad. So to be able to come in and be able to be a guy that has had success and failures at the big league level and the ability to at least help as much as I can get these guys to where they want to be, and where we want to be, I think was a tremendous opportunity for me.”

The process of building back up to throw a full season’s workload as a starter isn’t really a concern for the Nationals’ new pitcher.

“I haven’t done it before, going from 80 to 150-170 [innings],” he said.

“However, I know what is demanded of me in that sense. I also know I’m a different pitcher now, I’m older, and I know what works best for my body and my preparation.

“Am I concerned of the workload? No. I think it would be more significant of a jump if it was going from like 15 innings to 180 innings, but the way that my body has treated me well the last few years, I know that I’m prepared to take on that bulk and be healthy for that.”