GENEVA – Sam McWilliams didn’t finish strong a season ago and it bugged the big guy, big time.
So far, the 6-foot-7 right-hander appears on the path to a much better finish as he improved to 11-5 on the season after a 1-0 victory against Burlington Aug. 7. He had the same record as of Aug. 14 as the Cougars enter the home stretch.
McWilliams pitched five innings, scattering five hits, walking just one and striking out three while lowering his ERA to 2.68 and his WHIP to 1.02.
“There’s been a lot more good than bad this year but there is always room to improve, of course,” he said “It’s still lower level [minor league baseball] and I have a lot to learn, but I feel good with how I’ve done so far this year. I’ve been able to smooth some things out.”
The Nashville native, who will turn 22 in early September, was acquired by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in a trade after the 2015 season. He went 3-6 last year for the Cougars with a 3.98 ERA.
This summer really has been a very good one for McWilliams as he was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for July 3-9. Throughout his seven starts since July 2, he’s only given up more than two runs twice and pitched five or more innings in all but one outing. He also compiled a career-best 116 innings pitched through Aug. 8, a number that has increased to 121 innings as of Aug. 14.
“This is legitimately my first full season so it’s been pretty tough, but I think I’ve handled it pretty well,” he said. “I still feel strong and am pretty much at 100 percent so I’m happy with how everything is going.”
Perhaps what’s been most impressive from McWilliams is his ability to not beat himself. While he’s only surrendered 98 hits thus far he’s also walked only 26 batters and surrendered just four home runs. Opponents are only hitting a Mendoza-like .223 against him.
“If you keep less traffic on the base paths you’re likely going to get good results,” he said. “I just go out there and keep trying to attack guys and I trust my stuff. Once you throw the ball there’s not much more you can do, so I’m throwing strikes and letting things happen.”
Keeping his fastball down, and one that is much faster than it was when he was drafted three years ago, has certainly helped. Firing it in there regularly in the mid-90s has made him even more difficult to hit.
“I’m keeping my fastball down and when I do that I know I’m going to be alright,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing and it seems to be working for me so I’m going to keep doing it.”
He’s also looking to put on a few extra pounds for stamina and durability. Most fans will recall a Hall of Famer named Randy Johnson who donned the Diamondbacks uniform and won 303 games over a brilliant 22-year career, which included a 24-5 season in 2002. Johnson was even taller than McWilliams at 6-foot-10 but only weighed 225 pounds. McWilliams is listed at 190 pounds.
“In the off-season, I worked on putting on some pounds and put on about 10,” McWilliams said. “I think that’s helped me and I’ll work on doing that every year. I talk to our strength coach and he helps me a lot with nutrition and what I need to do to get in shape and get better. I trust the plan the [Diamondbacks] have for me. I’m going to keep in shape and keep working on getting better and see where it takes me.”