Gather 'round, kids, and listen to Nick Williams' secrets for pinch-hitting success.
"Honestly," the Phillies' outfielder said, "I've been doing a really good job of just closing my eyes."
Williams was kidding. But seriously, it's striking that a 24-year-old former top prospect who was accumstomed to playing every day in the minors has three pinch-hit home runs this season, including a solo shot in the eighth inning Saturday that beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1, and put the Phillies in sole possession of first place for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.
It gets better. All three of Williams' pinch-hit homers have given the Phillies the lead, a feat no player has accomplished in a full season since Olmedo Saenz and Mark Sweeney in 2004. Williams is also the first Phillies player with three pinch homers in a season since John Mayberry Jr. in 2014, and the first with three pinch homers before the end of May since Matt Stairs in 2009.
Williams is 9 for 19 with eight RBI as a pinch-hitter.
So, what's his real secret?
"Being the most simple person, I don't really think much," Williams said. "I just go through a plan and stick to it. I was talking with the [assistant] hitting coach, Pedro Guerrero, about the difference between pinch-hitting and when I do get starts. I don't necessarily put as much pressure on myself. I just try to keep it as simple as possible."
Early in the season, Williams whined about his playing time relative to fellow rightfielder Aaron Altherr. But although he has started only 19 games, compared to Altherr's 28, Williams has earned praise from manager Gabe Kapler for embracing a bench role.
"We always say, 'Who can hit us a home run?' The answer we have all year long is Aaron or Nick on the bench," Kapler said. "One of those guys could come up and hit you a big home run. You look for that moment, and Nick has been delivering, delivering, delivering."
EICKHOFF AWAITS DIAGNOSIS
While the Phillies play in Los Angeles this week, pitcher Jerad Eickhoff will travel to St. Louis in search of another opinion for a puzzling injury.
Eickhoff will see Dr. Robert Thompson, a vascular surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, to determine the cause of the numbness in two fingertips on his right hand last Sunday, during a minor-league rehab start. Eickhoff underwent tests with the Phillies' medical staff Thursday. The issue is likely related to the nerve irritation that sidelined him last season.
Thompson specializes in thoracic outlet syndrome, a diagnosis that Eickhoff is hoping to avoid, because it could require surgery.
"Right now, there's still not a ton of clarity," Eickhoff said. "There's some theories as to what it may be. There's definitely testing that showed there's obviously something going on. It's just a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together and figuring out what specifically it is, where it's generating from."