Williams a surprise cut
BRADENTON, Fla. — Dave Williams was a little surprised to be called into manager Lloyd McClendon’s office this early in camp, particularly since he was supposed to be in the running for the fifth starter’s job. Williams, however, had no problem with the message that was conveyed to him.
The 25-year-old left-hander was told his velocity was down, his location poor and his arm strength lacking.
“The evaluation they gave me and the reasons they sent me down were honest,” Williams said after being one of eight players cut from the Pirates’ roster Monday. “As a player, you respect an honest evaluation. I didn’t want anything sugar-coated. I wanted it straight. The truth hurts sometimes. It’s a letdown, but I know there will be better days for me.”
Williams was sent to Class AAA Nashville because the Pirates want him to show that he’s rid of the injury problems that plagued him the past two seasons. That also was the theme in the decision to option catcher J.R. House to Nashville. House has played only 71 games the past two years because of abdominal and elbow injuries.
Outfielder Tony Alvarez was the third player optioned to Nashville, and pitching prospect Ian Snell was optioned to Class AA Altoona. Re-assigned to the minor-league camp were pitcher Hector Almonte, infielders Luis Figueroa and Brandon Chaves, and outfielder Luke Allen.
The Pirates have 49 players remaining in camp, including 24 pitchers.
Williams came to camp with the idea of competing with Rick Reed, Ryan Vogelsong and Sean Burnett for the lone vacancy in the rotation. But after watching Williams pitch twice in exhibition play, including one outing in which he gave up five runs in one inning, the Pirates knew he needed more time at Nashville.
“The combination of his velocity being down, the command not being there and really not having any bite to his stuff, that points to us that he needs to get stretched out and get more innings,” general manager Dave Littlefield said.
Williams was 3-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 22 games with the Pirates during the 2001 season when he joined the team after making only 11 appearances above the Class A level. But shoulder problems in 2002 curtailed his development and he was limited to 16 starts at Nashville last year while returning from labrum surgery.
“Hopefully, I won’t be forgotten,” Williams said. “Maybe I can be the guy who comes up if somebody has to go down.”
House, 24, also wants to prove he’s finally injury-free. His play this spring didn’t go unnoticed, as manager Lloyd McClendon called House the most improved player in camp.
“He needs to get out there, compete and be a healthy player,” McClendon said. “The most important thing is he goes out and plays every day. He needs to get a full year under his belt so we can evaluate him properly.”
The Pirates asked House to work exclusively on his catching during his stay in the big-league camp. In the minors, however, they want him to play some first base and left field.
“These guys really haven’t seen me play,” House said. “I need to go out and show them what I can do when I’m healthy.”
Snell, 22, was the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year in 2003 and was participating in his first major-league camp. He made three appearances this spring and finished in style, pitching one scoreless inning Sunday against the New York Yankees when he faced Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield.
“You hope they walk away from something like that with a little more confidence,” Littlefield said.
Alvarez, 24, will begin a second consecutive season at Nashville. He had a strong spring, batting .400 with two doubles and five RBI in 20 at-bats. This an important season because he’ll be out of minor-league options next year.
“He needs to be a better player,” Littlefield said. “You can talk a lot about youth and inexperience, and that’s often the case. But if a guy plays well, he’ll be in the big leagues sooner rather than later.”