Williams leads Peoria to first Fall League win

Rays' No. 15 off to hot start thanks to new approach

Williams leads Peoria to first Fall League win

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After striking out 90 times in 2015, Justin Williams came to Spring Training looking to refine his approach at the plate.

The hard work paid dividends, and the Rays' No. 15 prospect broke out offensively, hitting .295 with just 56 strikeouts in 2016.

"I just talked a lot with (Rays' hitting coach) Chad Mottola and he helped me a lot in Spring Training to see the ball, not just go up there hacking," Williams said. "I really, really thank him and the hitting coaches I had this year (Class A Advanced Charlotte hitting coach) Joe (Szekely) and (Double-A Charlotte hitting coach) Dan (DeMent). I really, really appreciate those guys."

Williams' new approach has continued to pay dividends in the Arizona Fall League, as he's off to a hot start and led Peoria to a 5-2 win over Scottsdale on Thursday afternoon at the Peoria Sports Complex.

• Gameday

The 21-year-old went 2-for-3 with a triple, an RBI, a walk and a run scored and is now 4-for-8 through two games.

"I feel more relaxed here," Williams said. "In the season, obviously the numbers matter because it's your career, but here, I'm just having fun with the guys."

It's just two games, surely a small sample size, but Williams has already drawn a pair of walks, something he did just 11 times in 90 games during the regular season.

"Just trying to get a good pitch to hit," Williams said of his patience. "Trying to become an overall good baseball player, not just one-dimensional."

Marcos Molina started the game for Scottsdale, his first action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2015. The Mets' No. 11 prospect threw 38 pitches, 24 strikes, in two innings of one-run ball.

Molina, a 21-year-old right-hander, gave up four hits, walked one and struck out two. In 2015, Molina posted a 4.26 ERA across nine games, eight starts, with the GCL Mets and Class A Advanced St. Lucie. Prior to his surgery, Molina's fastball got up to 94 mph, and on Thursday it was just a tick below that, sitting in the low 90's.

"He looked pretty good," Williams said. "He threw me a really good changeup."

San Diego's Kyle McGrath took the ball opposite Molina and had an impressive outing of his own. After posting a 0.93 ERA in 45 games during the regular season, the 24-year-old gave up just one run -- a solo homer to Giants' No. 21 prospect Hunter Cole -- on one hit in his AFL debut.

Brandon Dixon (Reds), who is 5-for-11 through two games, put Peoria on the board early with an RBI single in the first.

After Cole's homer tied the game in the top of the second, Williams tripled and scored in the third, giving Peoria a lead it would not relinquish.

Leading off the third Williams took the fourth pitch he saw, a 92-mph fastball, and lined it off the center-field wall for a triple.

"I just put my head down and ran," Williams said. "I just always try to hustile, you never know what can happen."

Dixon, who finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs, collected his second RBI of the game in the fourth before fellow Reds farmhand Zach Vincej gave the Javelinas some breathing room with a homer, his second of the AFL, in the eighth.

"We had a really good game as a team," Williams said after Peoria's first win. "I felt like the first few days we were getting the cobwebs out. Today we played good baseball, played baseball like I know we can. And we ended up winning."

The Scottsdale offense was stifled for the majority of the afternoon, scoring just two runs on four hits, but Michael Hermosillo (Angels) managed to collect an RBI single in the fifth and is now 3-for-7.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.