Angels' Williams sharp in spring debut

Angels' Williams sharp in spring debut

Angels' Williams sharp in spring debut
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Through what was a painstakingly long 24 days -- as he watched Garrett Richards compile starts, as the fifth-starter spot continued to slip by and as the sun began to set on Cactus League play -- Jerome Williams remained positive and upbeat. His arm, he'd say, was in good enough shape to make up for the time he was losing with a hamstring injury.

On Monday afternoon, in a back field at the Athletics' Minor League facility, Williams was finally able to prove that.

While making his spring debut in a Triple-A exhibition game, the 30-year-old right-hander hurled three shutout innings, giving up only a single and a walk, striking out four, shattering a couple bats and not allowing any hard-hit balls.

Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais said Williams, who had been out since March 2 with a left hamstring strain, is "probably a little bit farther ahead than I thought he would be."

"He's healthy, and that's the main thing," Servais said after watching Williams' outing. "Arm's fine, stuff's fine. He looked a lot better than I anticipated, especially with this being his first outing. He looks good. Very good."

And with that, the fifth-starter competition can truly begin.

Back at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Richards was nowhere near as sharp as he had been, giving up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Rockies. It was a stat line that wasn't indicative of the performance, manager Mike Scioscia cautioned, and Richards -- who has a 3.73 ERA in 19 1/3 innings this spring, if you count his Minor League outing -- didn't particularly consider it a step back.

"I'm happy with my performance," Richards said. "I worked the ball in and out, threw the ball down in the zone and worked in all my pitches for strikes."

Williams also worked in all his pitches -- the fastball, two-seamer, cutter, curveball and changeup -- in a 41-pitch debut, which saw him strike out the side in the second inning and use only nine pitches to get through the third.

Sure, it came against Triple-A hitters. And, yes, Williams still needs to get stretched out and successfully make three more starts before the Angels can deem him their fifth starter on April 15 at Yankee Stadium.

But his leg wasn't an issue and his arm, as expected, was in shape.

"I am on track. It is a big relief for me," Williams said. "I'm happy that I'm back where, hopefully, I need to be, moving forward. Hopefully I'll be there at Yankee Stadium."

Trevor Bell and Brad Mills have also been mentioned for the fifth spot, but they seem like very unlikely candidates at this point. With Richards only 23 and without any Triple-A experience, and Williams out of options, the fifth-starter spot could just be a matter of Williams proving he's healthy.

Williams, whose next start will come in another Minor League game on Saturday, threw 170 1/3 innings in 2011 if you combine stints in independent ball, Triple-A and the Majors, then pitched in winter ball and began throwing bullpen sessions at the Angels' complex as early as January.

So, he wasn't particularly surprised that the ball looked so crisp coming out of his hand.

"I had that feel since winter ball," he said. "I still have the feel for it. Just locating is a key for me right now, keeping the ball down, especially with every pitch that I've got."