After dominating for Team USA, Devin Williams returns to Brewers spring training

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PHOENIX – Devin Williams was back in the Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse Thursday morning, just in time to watch a replay of himself pitching in the World Baseball Classic final against Japan on TV.

Spoiler alert: He dominated.

“It was a really good challenge for myself to compete in an environment like that and it went well” said the Brewers closer.

Now? Welcome back to what late-March baseball usually feels like.

“You wouldn’t have guessed it. It didn’t feel like March,” Williams said. “It felt like we were playing baseball in October…I feel like I’m probably even moreso (ready). I’ve been in the league for a few years now, so spring training games just don’t do it for me.

Milwaukee Brewers closer Devin Williams smiles during a chat prior to Team USA's game against Team Mexico during the 2023 World Baseball Classic at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on March 12, 2023.
Milwaukee Brewers closer Devin Williams smiles during a chat prior to Team USA's game against Team Mexico during the 2023 World Baseball Classic at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on March 12, 2023.

“It’s tough for me to lock in those games. I definitely preferred that experience to being in spring training.”

Williams appeared in four games for the runner-up Americans, not allowing a run while striking out six and giving up only one hit and one walk.

Williams held onto a one-run lead in the eighth inning of a win over Colombia in the pool play finale that sent USA onto the knockout stages. In the quarterfinal win against Venezuela, he took the mound right after Trea Turner’s dramatic go-ahead grand slam and picked up a hold with a scoreless eighth.

And that cinematically dramatic Mike Trout vs. Shohei Ohtani battle for the final out in the championship? The stakes wouldn’t have been quite as high if Williams hadn’t thrown up a zero against Japan the half-inning before to keep it a one-run game, which allowed Trout to be the potential tying run.

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“That was the matchup that everyone had been waiting for,” Williams said. “I was hoping it ended a little differently, but it’s tough to hit that guy, so I understand. I didn’t get to face (Ohtani), but he’s definitely a special guy at the mound and at the plate.”

Williams hasn’t pitched in the playoffs yet in his career, so it was a new atmosphere for him.

“I mean, I really haven’t gotten too many opportunities to pitch in any environment like that, so that was a really cool experience for me,” he said. “That was kind of a challenge, to control my emotions out there and execute pitches, which I thought I did a pretty good job of.”

Devin Williams cherishes chance to talk with Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Wainwright

Williams got to pick the brains of many of the other members of Team USA, specifically mentioning hitting coach Ken Griffey Jr. and Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright as the ones he spent lots of time with.

“Being around all those guys, the lineup was incredible, the bullpen was incredible,” Williams said. “Just getting to learn from those guys like Wainwright and all those veteran guys, picking their brains and picking up as much as I can from them and implementing it into my game. It was just a special experience.”

Williams will make a couple of tune-up outings before opening day in an environment that, aside from being 60 feet, six inches away from the plate, will be nothing like what he just experienced.

“I think the challenge for Devin is you just can’t even come close to what’s going to happen,” Counsell said. “The next three days, the next two outings, I don’t even think it’s fair to pitch, almost. It’s going to be hard.”

Brewers 4, Padres 2

Gus Varland's quest to make the Brewers roster as a Rule 5 draft pick continued in a win over the Padres Thursday at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

Varland, a reliever, got the start for Milwaukee so he could face a challenge in the top of the San Diego order. He struck out all three batters he faced, drawing six swings and misses and hitting 97 mph on the radar gun with his fastball.

Varland faced a steep uphill battle to make the team, but is giving the Brewers every reason possible to keep him around.

"His last three outings are hard to top," Counsell said. "He's struck out 9 of his last 11 hitters. He's doing a heck of a job. Of any of the guys here, a Rule 5 guy, the results certainly matter as much as anybody."

Victor Caratini homered for the first time in what has been a quietly productive spring at the plate with a 1.065 OPS.

Luis Urías and Rowdy Tellez returned to the lineup after their time with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Urías walked three times.

Bryse Wilson, who is being evaluated as a potential reliever this year for the Brewers, threw two innings out of the bullpen.

Ryan Middendorf and Justin Yeager, a pair of under-the-radar potential bullpen arms closed out the game for the Brewers.

"The last two guys are guys who are starting in the minors, I don't know what level they're starting at exactly, but they're certainly guys we have our eye on and have been noticing all spring and are interested in," Counsell said.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Devin Williams returns to Brewers camp after dominating for Team USA