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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cubs' Williams ready to pitch in

By Andrew Baggarly
Special to The Advertiser

Jerome Williams will be counted on with two Cubs starters already nursing injuries. He will follow Greg Maddux in the rotation.

ASSOCIATED PRESS LIBRARY | Oct. 1, 2005

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MESA, Ariz. Waipahu's Jerome Williams has the best of everything.

He has a fresh start with the Chicago Cubs, a manager who understands him, a place in one of baseball's best rotations and a renewed outlook on his life and career.

Then there's what he doesn't have. All that drama.

"I feel like a new player now," said Williams, 24, a Waipahu High graduate. "It's been so long since I didn't have to worry about everything.

"It's been happening since I was 17. Now I just feel clean. I can go out and just play."

And even better, his father can walk through the turnstiles to watch him.

Glenn Williams Sr. is doing well after kidney and liver transplants last spring. With support from his family and plenty of prodding from Jerome, he was well enough to make a trip to Chicago last August.

It was an emotional day Aug. 23 when Jerome took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and pitched the Cubs to a 10-1 victory over the Braves. He also had a single and double his first career multi-hit game.

"It was one of my best games ever," Jerome said. "Having my dad there was a big thing for me. Most of the Cubs knew what was going on. That was a big moment for me just to see him there, see me pitch a pretty good game. I was pretty happy with myself that day."

Williams already had a place in the Cubs rotation before injuries to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Now more than ever, with those two former All-Stars in questionable health, the Cubs are awfully glad to have Williams.

Carlos Zambrano will start the season opener April 3 and Greg Maddux will pitch the home opener April 7. Williams will follow Maddux in the rotation.

"He's out there to pitch and win," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker. "He gave himself an opportunity to win by coming into camp in good shape."

Williams, who was traded to Chicago from San Francisco in May of 2005, has a few familiar faces around the Cubs clubhouse.

Former Giants reliever Scott Eyre signed as a free agent this winter. Another former San Francisco teammate, outfielder Marquis Grissom, is expected to win a bench job.

Williams opened last year in the Giants rotation but lasted just two starts before the club put him in the bullpen, then sent him back to Triple-A Fresno.

Williams isn't worried about getting off to a faster start this year, mostly because he has grown as a pitcher and as a person.

"I have no pressure," Williams said. "I can go out there with a clear mind on baseball instead of worrying about stuff off the field. It's totally different. I don't have to worry about throwing a ball and not know where it's going. I realized last year I need to have confidence behind every pitch I throw and I have that now. I feel I can do that any time."

The numbers haven't looked good this spring. In his first three starts, Williams has allowed nine runs and 15 hits over nine total innings. It's not the first time he's given up some crooked numbers in Cactus League games, and he doesn't mind an inflated spring ERA if the work helps him sharpen up for the season.

Besides, there's no danger of Williams pitching himself out of the Cubs' plans. Not with Wood and Prior on the shelf.

Williams is confident and arrived in camp in good shape after spending the winter working out in Fresno, Calif., where he lives with his wife and baby girl. He went home in December to visit his family, and also made sure to visit with the Little League World Series champions from 'Ewa Beach. West O'ahu manager Layton Aliviado was Williams' Little League coach as well.

"I watched every game real close," he said. "That was something to celebrate."

Williams remains a favorite of scouts for his ability to change speeds and alter his arm angle, which continually gives batters a different look. While most young pitchers try to pitch inside and out, Williams isn't afraid to work up and down in the strike zone.

"Potential is a very dangerous word," Baker said. "No matter how well you pitch, you still might not fulfill your potential to some people. Jerome, so far, looks good. Really, the job is to win. He wants to do that, and to be a part of that. We think he can be, too."