Prospect Wil­liamson im­presses in his in­trasquad de­but

The News Tribune - - Sports - BY LAU­REN SMITH lsmith@the­new­stri­bune.com

It was about a week be­fore sum­mer camp opened when Bran­don Wil­liamson got a call he wasn’t sure was com­ing.

The No. 11 prospect in the Seat­tle Mariners or­ga­ni­za­tion, Wil­liamson, the 6-foot-6, hardthrow­ing lefty who im­pressed in Everett last sea­son, sup­posed there was a good chance he would be added to the club’s 60-man player pool, but he couldn’t be sure.

“I was kind of on the fence,” he said Satur­day on a video call with re­porters. “I was like, ‘I’ve got a good shot at go­ing, but I might not go ei­ther.’ … I was just like, ‘I’m go­ing to keep go­ing as if it was a nor­mal year, so if they do have some­thing that hap­pens, I (would be) ready for it.’ ”

Then Mariners gen­eral man­ager Jerry Dipoto called, and sud­denly Wil­liamson, the topranked lefty in Seat­tle’s sys­tem, was on his way from the Mid­west to Seat­tle to pitch against big lea­guers and sev­eral of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s top prospects.

The 22-year-old made his first in­trasquad start Satur­day — and picked up the win for the Steel­heads — toss­ing two mod­i­fied in­nings with­out al­low­ing a run.

He walked a pair of bat­ters, but struck out in­field prospect Noelvi Marte be­fore reach­ing his 40-pitch limit with two outs in the sec­ond.

“Fac­ing some of our top guys in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s awe­some,” Wil­liamson said af­ter the start. “I love the high com­peti

tion, and it’s just good to get back out there and throw.”

Wil­liamson was Seat­tle’s sec­ond-round pick last year out of Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity and im­pressed in a brief 10 games (nine starts) with Short-A Everett in 2019, post­ing a 2.35 ERA in 151⁄

3 in­nings with 25 strike­outs and five walks.

His fast­ball — which sat be­tween 91-93 mph Satur­day, and touched as high as 94 — and played well in his first pro­fes­sional sea­son, and he also de­buted a curve­ball he de­vel­oped at the sug­ges­tion of AquaSox pitch­ing coach Ari Ron­ick.

“We did some drills and I just started throw­ing ham­mers,” Wil­liamson said. “It just felt good.”

Wil­liamson said he barely threw a curve­ball dur­ing col­lege, but it be­came a for­mi­da­ble weapon his first pro­fes­sional sea­son.

“I didn’t trust it (in col­lege), it wasn’t my go-to,” he said of his curve­ball. “I was mainly a slider guy, and once I got to Everett, start­ing throw­ing a curve­ball and it just caught. It worked for me. I felt com­fort­able. Some­thing just clicked. I was like, ‘OK, this is what I can go with now.’ My slider is very sim­i­lar, I would say.”

He’s also more ag­gres­sive now, he said, prac­tic­ing what the Mariners so of­ten preach — con­trol and dom­i­nate the strike zone.

“Now I just trust what I’m do­ing and kind of know what type of pitcher I am a lit­tle more,” Wil­liamson said.

Dur­ing the shut­down Wil­liamson, a Min­nesota na­tive, threw with his dad to stay in base­ball shape, so he would be ready for what­ever came next.

“I was for­tu­nate,” he said. “I got to go home and I got to work out in a weight room still. I had more stuff than most guys had. I threw with my dad ev­ery day. He even bought catcher’s gear so I could throw to him. I was do­ing some live ses­sions with him ev­ery Wed­nes­day.”

And the two of them didn’t hold back dur­ing those live ses­sions.

“He got drilled a lot,” Wil­liamson joked. “There were a cou­ple marks on his thighs. He wore one in the shin, the an­kle. He even wore a cou­ple when he was wearing gear, so we got gear right away. We had known from past ex­pe­ri­ences he needed some gear.”

Wil­liamson com­pleted much of the work with his dad each week he would have if he was with one of Seat­tle’s af­fil­i­ates ready to be­gin a sea­son.

It put him in a good po­si­tion to be ready to pitch — and pitch well — Satur­day.

“A lot of guys aren’t get­ting this chance,” Wil­liamson said. “It’s a great op­por­tu­nity to keep work­ing with the or­ga­ni­za­tion, keep get­ting bet­ter and pre­pare for next year.”

WALKER RETURNS

Mariners starter Tai­juan Walker is sched­uled to start his first in­trasquad game Mon­day, and he’s fired up for it, Mariners man­ager Scott Ser­vais said.

“He’s been into my of­fice twice re­quest­ing to face cer­tain guys on the other team, so we’re try­ing to take care of him there,” Ser­vais said.

“Tai­juan is lead­ing the charge with the smack talk­ing go­ing on, which has been great to see. Cre­at­ing a lit­tle bit more com­pe­ti­tion, keep­ing it fun and lively. That’s ex­actly what we’re hop­ing for.”

Walker, Seat­tle’s first-round pick in 2010, re­turned to the Mariners just be­fore spring camp opened in Fe­bru­ary, sign­ing a one-year, $2 mil­lion deal with the club.

Mon­day’s in­trasquad start will be the first time Walker has pitched in a game sit­u­a­tion in T-Mo­bile Park — or, Safeco

Field as it was known be­fore he was traded to Ari­zona — since 2016.

“It feels good to be back out there, and it feels re­ally good be­ing at TMo­bile Park again and see­ing how beau­ti­ful the park is,” Walker said fol­low­ing his first live bat­ting prac­tice ses­sion Tues­day.

He faced Dee Gordon and Kyle Sea­ger each twice dur­ing live BP, threw 22 pitches, and his fast­ball sat around 90-93 mph.

“I feel good, my arm feels good, I like where

I’m at,” he said.

Ser­vais said Walker has been fo­cus­ing on his sec­ondary pitches dur­ing camp, par­tic­u­larly his slider and curve­ball, and has added a two-seam fast­ball to com­ple­ment his four-seamer.

Walker’s growth from the time he left for the Di­a­mond­backs, later un­der­went Tommy John surgery and even­tu­ally re­turned to Seat­tle has im­pressed Ser­vais.

“He’s ma­tured so much,” Ser­vais said. “That’s the thing that sticks out to me from where he was a few years ago. As a person, as a team­mate, on the field talk­ing to young play­ers, off the field — the whole pack­age has re­ally come to­gether.

“I re­ally hope we can keep him healthy, keep him go­ing, get his in­nings built up as quick as pos­si­ble … and he re­ally takes ad­van­tage of the 10 starts he has with us.”

SHORT HOPS

Re­liever Ger­son Bautista touched 101 mph on the sta­dium radar gun dur­ing Satur­day’s in­trasquad game, but his out­ing ended two pitches later. Mariners trainer Rob No­dine vis­ited the mound af­ter Bautista seem­ingly pointed to his right el­bow. Ser­vais said Satur­day the 25-year-old, who came to Seat­tle in the 2018 trade that sent Robin­son Cano and Ed­win Diaz to the Mets, was sched­uled to visit with team doc­tor Ed Khal­fayan for fur­ther eval­u­a­tion. “We’re hope­ful it’s noth­ing too se­ri­ous,” Ser­vais said. “He had an is­sue very sim­i­lar to this a cou­ple years ago, he in­formed our train­ers com­ing off the field. ... Keep our fin­gers crossed we don’t lose him for too long.” … The Mariners will start us­ing three lo­cal um­pires, who have all cleared COVID-19 test­ing, for the re­main­der of their in­trasquad games. Di­rec­tor of player devel­op­ment Andy McKay had been call­ing the games from be­hind the pitcher’s mound. … Mon­day’s in­trasquad game is sched­uled to last seven in­nings. Week­day games are streamed on the Mariners’ YouTube chan­nel.

I WAS FOR­TU­NATE. I GOT TO GO HOME AND I GOT TO WORK OUT IN A WEIGHT ROOM STILL. I HAD MORE STUFF THAN MOST GUYS HAD. I THREW WITH MY DAD EV­ERY DAY. HE EVEN BOUGHT CATCHER’S GEAR SO I COULD THROW TO HIM. I WAS DO­ING SOME LIVE SES­SIONS WITH HIM EV­ERY WED­NES­DAY.

Bran­don Wil­liamson

JOSHUA BESSEX joshua.bessex@gate­line.com

Bran­don Wil­liamson is pic­tured at the Seat­tle Mariners Spring Train­ing at T-Mo­bile Park in Seat­tle on Fri­day.

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