Friday, July 09, 1999
Williamson added to All-Star team
Rookie reliever quiets doubters with success
BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ST.LOUIS Relief pitchers condition themselves to develop short memories, since last night's strikeouts can become tonight's blown save.But certain things lodge in one's mind.
So just as Scott Williamson always will remember being added Thursday to the National League All-Star team, he also will recall the skepticism he encountered while climbing baseball's ladder.
Mickey Hatcher, who managed Great Falls in the Pioneer League against Williamson's Billings club in 1997, was quoted as saying the right-hander was dominating younger players and didn't have much of a future professionally.
Williamson's coach at Friendswood (Texas) High School told him as a freshman that he was too small to play varsity. Fast-forward to Williamson's senior year, when he struck out a school-record 138 batters in 84 innings.
Having avoided overt emotion another relievers' trademark while helping the Reds' bullpen become the best in the majors, Williamson was asked if he'd finally allow himself to enjoy this moment.
I think you have to, since it's my first year, and (given) the road I've come up on, always being doubted, he said. So it's a big honor for me.
Williamson replaced San Francisco relief ace Robb Nen, who's bothered by a callous on his right hand that affects his throwing motion. San Diego manager Bruce Bochy, who's running the NL squad, was fully aware that Williamson led all NL rookies with 10 saves, seven victories and a .700 winning percentage (7-3). Williamson also entered Thursday best among all NL relievers with at least 45 innings pitched.
Bochy considered Los Angeles' Jeff Shaw, New York's Armando Benitez and Dennis Cook and Atlanta's John Rocker. But it helped that Williamson collected saves in all three of his appearances against San Diego in May.
It looks like he has a starter's numbers with those wins, Bochy said in a nationwide conference call. And it's incredible what hitters are hitting off him (.166). His ERA is low. He has logged a lot of innings (58). I know (Reds manager) Jack (McKeon) has used him as more than just a short reliever. He's a two- to three-inning type of guy like closers used to be. And he has incredible stuff.
Williamson, who's 23 years and 146 days old, is the youngest Red to make the All-Star team since right-hander Mike LaCoss in 1979 (23 years, 48 days). He's Cincinnati's first rookie All-Star since third baseman Chris Sabo in 1988.
Williamson joined starting shortstop Barry Larkin and reserve first baseman Sean Casey to form the largest All-Star contingent of Reds since 1995, when Larkin, pitcher John Smiley and outfielders Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders were chosen.
A non-roster invitee to spring training, Williamson pitched exclusively as a starter in his first two pro seasons after the Reds selected him in the ninth round of the 1997 amateur draft.
Watching Williamson consistently exceed 95 mph in spring training led the Reds to switch him to relief.
It was a weird feeling, he admitted. In a way I was scared, because I never did it before. I tried it a couple of times in college and it didn't work out well.
Earning All-Star recognition eased Williamson's anxiety after he lost Wednesday night's game by surrendering Darren Bragg's ninth-inning, two-run homer. He consoled himself afterward by telephoning his father, Ray.
Said Williamson: He told me, "As long as you have that jersey on your back, it's going to be up and down. You've been doing a great job all year. You can't let one time on the mound destroy all you've done.'
Reds ratings record should fall this weekend