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Alika Williams’ Improved Strength, Confidence Keys for Hot Start



Alika Williams, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — If Alika Williams has looked like a different player to begin the 2024 season, well, that’s because he is.

In his rookie campaign in 2023, Williams lived up to his reputation as a strong defensive player from his shortstop position. However, Williams’ bat lagged far behind his glove. In 46 games with the Pirates, he hit just .198 with a .518 OPS and only five extra-base hits — all of which were doubles.

Now, Williams is about 15 pounds stronger than he was during his first call-up to the big leagues last season.

The suddenly bulkier Williams is off to a much better start to begin the 2024 season. Perhaps surprisingly, the 25-year-old made the Pirates’ Opening Day Roster. He’s certainly made the most of his opportunity with a stellar start to the season.

“It was definitely a huge focus, just getting a little stronger and getting my swing worked out,” said Williams. “The pitchers up here are really good so I had to make a few adjustments. It’s felt good so far.”

Through his first eight games of the season, Williams is hitting .348 with .965 OPS. Three of his eight hits have gone for extra-bases — a double and two triples.

In their loss to the Boston Red Sox on Friday, the Pirates were held scoreless through the first eight innings. Williams stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He provided a spark to an extinguished Pirates’ lineup and tripled to left field. He eventually scored the Pirates’ first — and only — run of the game.

With his pinch-hit triple on Friday, the 2020 first-rounder extended his hitting streak to five games, which matches his longest from last season. He has hits in seven of his eight games played this season.

“It feels good,” Williams said on his fast start. “Obviously this year is a little different role than what I’m used to coming up through the minors. I’ve been working with the hitting guys a lot, trying to stay ready … It’s been cool to see.”

What Williams experienced during his first season on the big leagues is not uncommon across the league. The jump from Triple-A to the game’s highest level seems to be as drastic as ever before.

A lot of players go through growing pains and Williams was no exception. However, year two feels different than year one.

“I think (the game has) slowed down a little bit,” Williams said. “I think with every game you play, you get a little more confidence. I talked to (Jared Triolo) when he went on his heater last year at the end of the year. I was like, ‘What’s the difference been?’ He told me, ‘I’m just confident, man. I’m able to be myself.’ I tried to take some of that and learn from that a little bit.”

While Williams’ start at the plate has been a pleasant surprise, the sample size is still small. He hasn’t gotten regular reps while serving as a backup middle infielder to Oneil Cruz at shortstop and second baseman Jared Triolo.

While there isn’t a likely scenario where Williams supplants either, he will need to continue to make the most of his opportunities. And he just might be able to.

His manager has reason to believe the offense, while maybe not at this high of a level, will be able to continue.

“You can see it,” Derek Shelton said. “You can see it in the quality of his at-bats. You can see the way the ball is coming off his bat.”

With his already strong defense up the middle, the Pirates will take any offense they can get from Williams.

As more than a one-dimensional player, Williams will certainly have more of an impact than he did last season. Helping the Pirates win is all he really cares about.

“I’m here to help the team win games. I wanna continue to contribute in any way I can. It’s a lot of fun being in this clubhouse and there are just really good players in this clubhouse.”

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