Notes: Williams helps his cause

Notes: Williams helps his cause

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Jerome Williams inched closer to joining the Nationals' starting rotation on Thursday. Williams had his second consecutive solid outing, going five innings and giving up two unearned runs on two hits in a 16-2 rout over the Astros.

Even more impressive was that Williams was economical with his pitches. After four innings, he threw just 45 pitches. Manager Manny Acta said Williams could have gone longer than five innings, but the skipper wanted to see right-hander Levale Speigner on the mound.

After the game, Acta said that Williams is close to being on the 25-man roster.

"Like I said, so many things can happen at the last minute in Spring Training," Acta said. "That's why I don't want to name anybody yet other than the guys [John Patterson and Shawn Hill] you already know. Williams helped himself -- back-to-back solid outings. It's out of his hands now."

It's proving to be a nice comeback for Williams. After getting hit hard in his first two outings, the righty hasn't given up an earned run in his last nine innings. Williams can credit positive thoughts for been successful. In his first game of the spring, for example, Williams let an error by shortstop D'Angelo Jimenez rattle him in the second inning as he gave up six runs -- four earned -- in the frame.

"I'm thinking about the positive, always looking forward. Don't look back," Williams said. "That first game, I thought negative about everything, from the error to trying to overpower [hitters]. I tried to learn from that. Each outing, I learned more and more, just how to trust my stuff and not worry about what happened the pitch before."

Thursday night also marked Williams' best game as a hitter, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Williams, who is a career .110 hitter, was out to prove to his teammates that he could hit after striking out three times against the Mets last Saturday.

"They were ragging on me. I guarantee they will not be saying anything now," Williams said. I struck out three times. I was upset at myself. I didn't even put the ball in play."

He needed this game: Left fielder Ryan Church had a batting session with hitting coach Mitchell Page before Thursday's game. Page told Church to keep his hands back before the pitch is thrown. It paid off as Church went 3-for-5, including a mammoth home run to right field against the Astros' Brian Moehler in the sixth inning.

"I just kept telling myself to trust my hands and believe in the whole thing. Mitch has been around and he knows his stuff," Church said. "It's going to benefit me by going into the cage and continue to work on what we are doing."

Church is quietly becoming a run producer. He is second on the team in RBIs this spring with 11.

"We all know he can hit," Acta said. "I hope he doesn't just hit in Spring Training. I hope he hits during the season."

Another solid outing: Speigner, a Rule 5 draft pick, pitched three shutout innings on Thursday and hasn't given up a run in 11 2/3 innings this spring. It's very doubtful that he will be returning to Twins.

Speigner most likely will be a swing man for the Nationals, although general manager Jim Bowden feels he is strictly a reliever.

"He has been a tremendous addition to our team," Bowden said. "If Speigner makes this team, it is because he belongs here, not because we are trying to carry him. He deserves to be on this team the way he has pitched. He has earned it. He has beaten almost all of the relievers out this spring."

Injury report: Left-hander Mike O'Connor is expected to start the season on the 60-day disabled list because of a sore left elbow. The Nationals hope that O'Connor is ready by the All-Star break.

Right-hander Garrett Mock, who was part of the Livan Hernandez trade last August, will start the season on the disabled list because of a sore right knee that was surgically repaired last summer.

Mock participated in the team's accelerated camp, but started feeling pain in the knee a few weeks later. The Nationals hope that Mock will be ready to pitch by May. The righty will most likely pitch with Double-A Harrisburg.

Bereavement period: Reliever Chris Booker has not been with the team since Sunday after his mother-in-law passed away in Alabama. There is no timetable to when Booker will return.

Did you know? Entering Thursday's action, the Nationals had the fewest errors in the National League with 13 this spring. However, they made three errors against the Astros.

Coming up: The Nationals return to Space Coast Stadium on Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET to face the Tigers for the second time this spring. The last time they met was on March 15, with Detroit blanking Washington, 2-0, in Viera. Patterson will oppose Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.