PAWTUCKET — Randy Williams is a bit of late bloomer. In his case, that’s meant to serve as a compliment.
Normally you don’t associate a 35-year-old with a mid 90s fastball, but you do with Williams. Add to that the fact that the Texas native throws left-handed and suddenly there’s intrigue – the kind that suggests a return trip to the major leagues is closer than it appeared at the start of the season.
“A lefty who throws 95? I would,” said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur when asked if Williams is someone who falls in the “worth watching” category. “He’s got power stuff.”
Said Williams, “It [the velocity] surprises more people just because of my age. Usually most people by my age have started slowing down a little bit whereas I’ve been gaining the last couple of years.”
The Red Sox thought Rich Hill was the answer to their left-handed relieving prayers. Then he became lost for the season, the result of Tommy John surgery. Feel-good story Tommy Hottovy was given the chance to break through after toiling close to eight years in the minors, though he reported back to Pawtucket Tuesday. Currently, Franklin Morales is the only lefty at Terry Francona’s disposal – and he was with Colorado as recently as last month.
The kind of uncertainty the Red Sox have shown since Hill went down has opened the door (and possibility) for Williams to get a crack. Remove Saturday’s forgotten outing at Indianapolis – the 12-year pro wild pitched in the winning run in the ninth inning after loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter – and Williams has been virtually untouchable. In fact, Saturday was the first time he had allowed an earned run, spanning 11 appearances and 11 2/3 innings.
The fact Williams is pitching pain-free is a major step. He missed most of April and May due to a shoulder injury that he aggravated while driving from the Red Sox’ spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla. to Pawtucket. Like fellow hard-throwing southpaw Andrew Miller, Williams had an opt-out clause for June 15, but chose to stay put with the Red Sox.
Why? Williams feels the organization he signed with in December has been straightforward with him since Day 1, something that wasn’t always the case in previous stops. In fact, having an unclear role is one of the main reasons why Williams feels his 5.74 ERA in 90 big-league games has knocked him down a peg or two.
“When I first started getting opportunities, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was relying on pure stuff,” said Williams, who has pitched for the Mariners, Padres, Rockies and White Sox. “There were times I would be a lefty (specialist) or a long guy. The most difficult thing was figuring out what I was supposed to be.
“At least [with the PawSox] I know what’s going on. For me, that’s important thing. It’s not that they’re telling me to face a lefty and that’s it. It’s ‘You’re going to get some work in and we’re going to use you in the best spot.’ It’s not like they’re telling me one thing and doing something else. As long as I know.”
Given that his season got off to a slow start, the PawSox elected to take things slow with Williams. The goal was to build him to the point that he becomes a two-inning option for manager Arnie Beyeler. So far Williams has been used in said capacity on three occasions, striking out five while allowing five hits.
As for the heater? Let’s just say Williams, who missed nearly four seasons early in his pro career due to shoulder and elbow ailments, has been on an uptick.
“I used to be a 88-92 mph guy. Then I started lifting and pitching angry more,” Williams said with a smile. “Over the years I’ve had so many people give me advice or move me in a direction. To finally get a plan that works for me …”
That plan is rooted in a three-quarter delivery – one that Williams and Sauveur concur is on the “low” side. As expected Williams is flummoxing left-handed hitters, holding them to a .176 average. He’s just as tough on righties (.241).
“I wasn’t aware of how low I threw until I saw it on video,” said Williams. “It’s the evolution of a lot of mechanical changes I made over my career. It’s not that I tried to get there, but there’s a lot of things I’ve changed that have made me throw the way I do now.”
Said Sauveur, “Rich Hill has done a phenomenal job. This is Hottovy’s first time and he’s done a very, very good job. I know that they’re happy with what Hottovy’s done, but you can always use another lefty in the ‘pen, always. I would keep my eye on
Randy and if he keeps the consistency of the velocity at 93-95 and getting everybody out, I think you’re going to see him [in Boston].”