Williams makes case for Bucs' rotation in '18

Rookie right-hander has logged career highs for innings, K's

Williams makes case for Bucs' rotation in '18

PITTSBURGH -- Thinking ahead about the Pirates' starting rotation in 2018, manager Clint Hurdle listed the group from top to bottom. The club believes Gerrit Cole will be the ace, joined atop the rotation by Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon.

All the Bucs need to figure out, then, is their Nos. 4 and 5 starters. No one has done more to strengthen his case for one of those spots than right-hander Trevor Williams. Backed by Andrew McCutchen's eight-RBI performance, Williams held the Orioles to one run on three hits while striking out six over six innings in a 10-1 win on Tuesday night at PNC Park.

That outing lowered Williams' ERA as a starter to 3.96. Projected to start Game 162 against the Nationals on Sunday, Williams is currently the only Pirates pitcher to make at least five starts with a sub-4.00 ERA.

Take away Williams' first start against the Dodgers on May 8, when he moved out of the bullpen to replace Taillon, and Williams owns a 3.65 ERA in his last 24 outings. The rookie has completed six innings in 12 of his 25 starts and five innings in 20 of his outings.

"It's nice to earn that trust, and go out there every fifth day and help the team win," Williams said. "I've fallen into this role now, and I like it a lot. It's been going great this year. It's nice going every fifth day, man."

This is the deepest into the season Williams has ever pitched. Overlooked as the Pirates called up a handful of pitching prospects last year and assigned to the bullpen out of Spring Training, he has worked a career-high 150 1/3 innings with a career-best 117 strikeouts. Williams' overall 4.07 ERA on the year is tied with the Rockies' Kyle Freeland for the best mark among National League rookies with at least 100 innings pitched.

"It's impressive," Hurdle said. "It's a really solid, strong, professional body of work."

Around the horn
• Shortstop Jordy Mercer (left knee soreness) hopes to play during the final series of the season at Nationals Park, head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said. Mercer has not played since leaving Saturday's game after six innings.

"He wants to finish. He wants to be out there and play," Tomczyk said. "We're evaluating literally hourly and daily to help him achieve that goal."

• The Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced its annual award winners on Wednesday. McCutchen received the Clemente Award (team MVP) for the sixth time in the past nine seasons. Closer Felipe Rivero was the unanimous selection for the Steve Blass Award (most outstanding pitcher). Mercer received the Chuck Tanner Award, given to the player deemed to be most cooperative with the media.

Cutch's first grand slam

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McCutchen on Tuesday became the third Pirates player since 1920, when RBIs were first officially recorded, to register at least four hits, four runs and eight RBIs in one game. The others were Johnny Rizzo, who went 5-for-6 with four runs and nine RBIs on May 30, 1939, and Ralph Kiner, who finished 5-for-6 with four runs and eight RBIs on June 25, 1950.

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.