You might say Reds fireballer Scott Williamson was a victim of having done his job too well last season. A starter throughout his college career at Tulane and Oklahoma State and also during his meteoric rise through Cincinnati's system, Williamson was placed in the Reds' bullpen early in 1999 because that's where rookies with 36 games of minor league experience are supposed to begin. Williamson and his 98-mph fastball tore through the National League—he wound up 12-7 with 19 saves and 107 strikeouts in 93? innings and was named Rookie of the Year—but working out of the bullpen wasn't his dream job. "When they told me I was starting, [manager] Jack McKeon said, 'It's the first time I've seen you with a smile on your face for a long time," says the 24-year-old righthander, who was inserted into the rotation two weeks ago. "When I was a little kid, I dreamed about being a starting pitcher in the big leagues."
Williamson's sophomore season hasn't been nearly the joyride his rookie year was. In his 38 appearances through July 4, his ERA was a respectable 3-65, but in 56% innings he had walked 46—more than he walked all last season—and was tied for the league lead with 13 wild pitches. Williamson had also blown two saves and won just two of seven decisions. The slump, combined with the emergence of righthander Danny Graves as a dominating closer, lightened Williamson's workload; when he did pitch he tended to overthrow, thus exacerbating his wildness.
On July 9 McKeon moved him into the rotation to replace struggling lefthander Ron Villone. Williamson, who had pitched only once in the previous 11 days, responded with a strong performance against the Indians: He allowed two runs, three hits and one walk in 5? innings in his first major league start. Though he used four pitches in the minors, Williamson had all but forgotten his changeup as a reliever, relying instead on his fastball, slider and split-finger. In his two starts through Sunday—he got his first win as a starter last Saturday, when he held the Rockies to three runs in six innings—Williamson changed speeds more often. "He's got everything it takes to be a great starter," says Reds pitching coach Don Gullett.
Says Williamson, who's basking in what he sees as a less-pressurized role on the staff, "There's a lot more pressure in relieving than in starting. If you give up one or two runs [when you start], your team still has a chance. If you give up a run when you relieve, it's [usually] a blown save or a loss. Relieving is not easy. I've learned that the last season and a half."
In Good Hands
July 25-26: Indians at Blue Jays Don't expect many cheap hits in this series. Through Sunday, Cleveland led the majors in fielding percentage (.986) and had made only 47 errors, second fewest in the majors, after Seattle. Toronto was .001 behind the Indians in fielding percentage and had made 51 errors. Combined, the two have the American League fielding-percentage leaders at four positions—Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel and third baseman Travis Fryman, and Blue Jays catcher Alberto Castillo and left fielder Shannon Stewart.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]