Bulls' Williams homers on four-hit night

Rays No. 9 prospect drives in three runs, falls triple shy of cycle

Justin Williams has eight games with at least four hits in his six-year professional career. (Carl Kline/MiLB.com)

By Gerard Gilberto / MiLB.com | May 19, 2018 10:26 PM

Things got complicated for Justin Williams over the past few weeks with Triple-A Durham. But once the sixth-year pro came to the realization that his problems were easy to grasp, and, in turn, solve it all came together Saturday night.

The Rays' ninth-ranked prospect homered and doubled twice, driving in three runs and scoring three times as the Bulls outslugged Indianapolis, 10-7, at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The homer was Williams' fourth of the season and third this month. He fell one hit shy of a career best while registering his eighth career four-hit game and first since July 26, 2016 with Double-A Montgomery.

Gameday box score

"Simple game, simple fixes," Williams said. "Just trying to stay up the middle with the baseball instead of pulling off everything. As of lately, I've been trying to do too much, but everything worked out well tonight just sticking to one approach."

Taken by the D-backs in the second round of the 2013 Draft out of high school in Louisiana, Williams was traded to the Rays with Durham teammate Andrew Velazquez in a 2014 deal that sent Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona. He's steadily climbed the Minor League ladder since his first full season in 2015, earning midseason promotions in consecutive years until sticking in the Southern League for the entire 2017 season. 

Williams batted .301/.364/.489 with 14 homers and 72 RBIs in 96 games with the Biscuits but hadn't found the same success in the International League.

"Double-A, there was really good pitchers," he said. "But here, guys will go 2-0, 2-1 and throw a really good breaking ball in there and before you know it, the count will be back even. You got to battle and you got to stick to your approach.

"Honestly, approach is the biggest thing. If you don't have an approach going to the plate, you're going to have very limited success."

Video: Williams clubs solo homer for Durham

The four-hit night bumped his average 23 points to .252 with 17 RBIs and a .726 OPS. Williams credited his performance to a fairly modest game plan.

"Trying to stay through the baseball ... just getting a pitch to hit -- or drive, I should say, versus just getting a pitch to hit because guys are really good up here," he said. "They make better pitches, they're smarter with their pitch selection. As a hitter, you have to play that chess match as well."

Leading off the second inning, the 22-year-old jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Indianapolis starter Tyler Eppler and drove it over the left field fence to start a four-run rally. Williams said that his up-the-middle approach "most definitely" aided in the opposite-field shot.

"With my front shoulder, everything's flying off, you start thinking about, 'Oh, maybe it's my swing, maybe it's my hands?'" he said. "You start changing your stance, you know? Then it's kind of like a downward spiral versus just, it can be the smallest thing and it makes the biggest difference."

Williams bounced to second in the third and plated fifth-ranked Rays prospect Jake Bauers with a base hit through the right side in the fifth before scoring on Jeremy Hazelbaker's three-run homer that put the Bulls up, 8-7.

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With one out in the seventh, Williams lofted a fly ball to center for his first double and scored on Adam Moore's infield hit. Following Jason Coats' two-out base hit in the eighth, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder cracked a liner to left, again driving home Bauers with his second double. Although he was just 90 feet from his first career cycle, Williams said the milestone was not in the cards, given the situation.

"Honestly, we were just trying to go base to base," he said. "We didn't want to be too aggressive. ... Baserunning is dictated by the scoreboard, in my opinion."

Rays No. 2 prospect Willy Adames singled twice in five at-bats, while Moore collected three hits.

Pirates No. 22 prospect Jordan Luplow hit a solo shot in a six-run fourth inning for Indianapolis.

Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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