- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2007

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Time is running out for Jerome Williams to make the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day roster. The last thing the hard-throwing right-hander needed was yesterday’s rainout against the Cleveland Indians.

Williams has precious few starts left this spring to make an impression with manager Manny Acta and his coaching staff.

“I wanted to get out there and try and show people that I belong here, try and show people that I can throw strikes and get guys out,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, I can’t do it.”

But because of yesterday’s decision by Acta to push his starters back one day, Williams will get another chance today against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

After two Grapefruit League starts, Williams has allowed six runs — four earned — in 41/3 innings on seven hits. His inflated numbers primarily are a result his disastrous first appearance of the spring against the Atlanta Braves on March 5, when he lasted just 11/3 innings and allowed six runs on four hits with two walks.

Williams was much better in his second outing last Saturday against the Mets when he pitched three scoreless innings with two strikeouts.

“I thought he threw the ball pretty good in his last outing,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “Early in the spring? It’s command. Command is usually the problem for most guys early in the spring. They’re getting the kinks out from a long winter layoff. I think in his last outing he was getting more in sync and in tune with his delivery and everything, and he executed pitches when he needed to.”

Last year, Williams made the Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day roster and appeared in five games (two starts) before being optioned to Class AAA Iowa. There Williams went 5-7 with a 4.76 ERA in 29 games (16 starts). The Oakland Athletics claimed Williams off waivers on Sept. 5, but he did not appear in a game down the stretch.

Desperate for starting pitching, the Nationals signed Williams as a free agent on Jan. 12. The good news for Williams is that he has survived two cuts already without having shown his best stuff. When camp opened, there were 12 potential starters vying for four open spots in the rotation. That number has dwindled to about seven or eight pitchers.

On Thursday, Acta said right-hander Shawn Hill had basically locked up the No. 2 spot in the rotation. He also said that Jason Simontacchi is on the verge of being named to the rotation, leaving two spots still up for grabs for the likes of Williams, Tim Redding, Jason Bergmann, and left-handed rookie Matt Chico.

Williams said his main problem this spring has been his inability to throw first-pitch strikes. That assessment correlates with St. Claire’s theory on a lack of command.

Redding’s performance Thursday against the Tigers is serving as a source of inspiration for Williams. Redding, like Williams, has struggled mightily this spring. Against the Tigers at Space Coast Stadium on Thursday night, Redding allowed one run in three innings of relief. Before that, Redding had allowed seven runs in just 22/3 innings.

“Of course, just to see Tim turn it around, I feel like I can do the same thing,” Williams said. “All ya got to do is go out there and work and try and do the things that you want to do right.”

Acta suggested that Williams should try to relax today when he takes the mound, and that he not worry about what the other pitchers are doing.

“He shouldn’t be trying to put pressure on himself because what other guys do because he can’t control the outcome anyway,” Acta said. “Just relax, go out there and do his thing, and we’ll make the best decision for the Washington Nationals.”

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