ATLANTA — Cubs manager David Ross has been looking for more out of his starting rotation lately. Jake Arrieta has carried much of the workload early this season, but the Cubs need their other four starters to step up.
After a subpar performance by Zach Davies in an 8-7 loss Monday to the Braves, the Cubs needed right-hander Trevor Williams to deliver a strong outing. He did just that.
In the Cubs’ 5-0 loss Tuesday to the Braves, he continued to move toward being the pitcher they have hoped he would be.
‘‘I feel like it’s coming together,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I feel like the repertoire, delivery and feel out there is all coming together. . . . I think we’re trending upward with delivery, with mechanics, with pitch-calling, with pitch-tunneling and sequencing. I think we’re heading in the right direction.’’
Williams escaped a big jam in the second inning that set the tone for the rest of his outing. He had to face Braves superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. with two outs after loading the bases. After falling behind in the count 3-1, Williams challenged Acuna with a fastball up in the zone and got a swing-and-miss before getting him to pop to first base to end the threat.
‘‘Whenever you get matched up with one of the game’s elite players like that, it’s something that you throw in your side bullpen sessions,’’ Williams said. ‘‘You don’t throw [stuff] the first at-bat of the game; you throw it the second or third time through [the order]. . . . It’s my best stuff against his best stuff, and thankfully we came out on top of that battle.’’
Acuna, however, would have the last laugh in his next at-bat in the fifth, crushing a solo home run to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. Second baseman Ozzie Albies added an RBI double later in the inning to make it 2-0.
‘‘We were going up and in [and] pulled it a hair, and it’s one of those things where he’s a good hitter,’’ Williams said of Acuna’s homer. ‘‘Solo homers don’t usually beat you as a starting pitcher. You’re OK giving up solo homers. It’s the two-, three-run homers and grand slams that are the ones that hurt your starts.’’
Williams likely could have stayed in the game after the Braves’ two-run fifth. But with the Cubs needing runs on a night when they were without Javy Baez (strained hamstring) and Kris Bryant (biceps discomfort), Ross opted to pinch-hit for Williams with the hope of creating some offense. After a strong night at the plate Monday, however, the Cubs only came up with two hits.
‘‘I thought he looked really good,’’ Ross said of Williams. ‘‘I thought his slider was sharp. He threw some really good changeups. I thought he used both sides of the plate really well — some fastballs in, some fastballs up. He executed down and away when he needed to. I thought he moved the fastball around really well, and his slider had some bite.
‘‘I probably would have let him go out for the sixth if it wasn’t for his spot coming up and us being down and needing some offense.’’
The game got away from the Cubs late, with the Braves scoring three runs against reliever Brandon Workman in the eighth to open a 5-0 lead.
It was the third consecutive start in which Williams pitched at least five innings. He allowed two runs and six hits, struck out eight and walked two, getting 15 swings-and-misses in the process. The eight strikeouts tied Williams’ career high, which he last reached on Aug. 29, 2018, at St. Louis.
‘‘I think our spin today was really good,’’ he said. ‘‘I think we made great strides with spin, locating the curveball to both sides of the plate and then throwing the slider to the edge and under. . . . Being able to locate the fastball to all four quadrants was really effective for me, as well, which enhances the secondary pitches.’’