PITTSBURGH -- One way or another, Nicholas Castellanos was going to be the last batter Trevor Williams faced Monday. Williams' pitch count climbed over 100 in the seventh inning, and George Kontos was warming up in the bullpen. If Castellanos got on base, Williams' best night in the Majors would be over too soon for his liking.
With a 2-2 count and two outs, Williams fired a 92.5-mph fastball down and away from the right-handed Castellanos. Catcher Francisco Cervelli's glove did not move, nor did Castellanos' bat. Williams' career-high 107th pitch caught the outside corner for a called third strike. Williams marched off the mound to a standing ovation after completing seven scoreless, one-hit innings in the Pirates' 3-0 win over the Tigers at PNC Park.
"It was a good finish to an outing," Williams said. "As a pitcher, I hate giving it over to the bullpen in the middle of an inning. I knew that's my last pitch. Better make the most of it."
Williams has made the most of his time in Pittsburgh's rotation since moving out of the bullpen May 8, posting a 3.56 ERA over his past 16 starts. His latest outing was also his best, as he silenced a Detroit lineup full of veteran hitters. He struck out five, walked two and allowed only one runner to reach second base.
"It was just old-fashioned pitching," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Old-fashioned, really good pitching."
Williams may not have been at his sharpest Monday night. He faced 23 hitters, threw a first-pitch strike to only 11 and ran up three-ball counts against eight of them. But he consistently did what he does best, challenging the Tigers with inside pitches and pounding the bottom of the strike zone. That led to weak contact -- Williams' specialty -- and eight ground-ball outs.
How every AB vs. Williams ended tonight. Two pitches in the upper half -- one ball four, the other an elevated 4-seamer to strike out Upton. pic.twitter.com/PcW9puyEUA
"He just goes after people," Cervelli said. "What I learned about catching is when a pitcher is able to throw the ball down, he's going to have success. Scouting reports say different things, but when you're able to hit the corners down, it's going to be hard to hit it."
Williams' improvement was not the result of some light-bulb moment. He has gained experience and confidence along with it, trusting his own ability and arsenal. Williams used his entire repertoire: two- and four-seam fastballs, sliders, changeups and a handful of curveballs. He relied on his fastballs, however, sticking to what he called "Plan A" against Detroit: working the corners down and in, down and away.
"Experience is the biggest confidence-builder," he said. "If I'm going out there every fifth day and I know I'm getting the ball every fifth day, it's giving me confidence."
Williams ran into trouble in the seventh, but did not collapse. The pitcher who reminds himself every five days that leadoff walks always score issued a leadoff walk to Andrew Romine. Six pitches later, Justin Upton beat out a double-play grounder that forced out Romine at second. Four pitches after that, Miguel Cabrera lined out to shortstop Sean Rodriguez.
"It's not hitting the panic button," Williams said. "It's taking a step back and not trying to do too much, knowing I have a double-play pitch in my repertoire."
Up came Castellanos, the last hitter Williams would face in the best outing of his young career.
"How fun was it to watch him finish the seventh tonight?" Hurdle said. "He continues to show development. He's very humble. He wants to learn and he loves to compete."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.