The Phillies had played just six games last season when Nick Williams, frustrated and feeling anguished about his new role, stepped into a coffee shop near Rittenhouse Square for a meeting with Gabe Kapler.
A day earlier, Williams said he wondered if the lineups posted by the analytically inclined manager were made by computers after Kapler kept him on the bench for another game. Williams began last season as a reserve, a role he did not expect after a promising rookie season. And he struggled to embrace it.
So Kapler, a few hours after Williams publicly dinged him, asked the dismayed outfielder to meet for breakfast. Williams was unsure what he would gain from the meeting besides a free meal. Coffee upsets his stomach so Williams ordered tea with his bagel.
The meeting occurred four miles from Citizens Bank Park, which Williams said allowed him to open up as he tends to feel trapped in an office like the one Kapler has in the bowels of the ballpark. Williams expressed his feelings and Kapler explained his reasoning. The two found common ground.
“It was good to speak on it,” Williams, 25, said near the end of last season. “It was just good to sit down and talk.”
Williams, his outlook refreshed from that meeting, proved last season that he could be an everyday player. He would force his way into the lineup and finish with a .749 OPS and 17 homers while starting 63 percent of the games.
Almost exactly a year later, Williams is in the same place. His spot was filled when the team signed two former MVPs to play in left and right field, and he again started the season as a reserve.
Williams, who did not start any of the Phillies’ first 11 games, does not know when his first start will come but “I’m not worried about it,” he said.
“I’m handling it way better this year than last year,” Williams said earlier this week. “Last year, I was just fighting it the whole time. The whole year, I was just fighting it. It doesn't bother me though. The only thing I think about is that maybe it messes a little bit with experience but I can still have a lot more years in this game. I have plenty of time to do what I want to do in this game. Just let it ride.”
Williams reported to spring training in February unsure of what to expect. He was the team’s starting right fielder but everyone knew they were pursuing Bryce Harper.
“I honestly thought this whole spring and offseason that I was definitely getting traded,” Williams said. “My fiance would be like, ‘No, you’re not.’ I would say ‘It’s happening. Just watch. I’m getting that call.’”
Harper signed two weeks into camp and surely, Williams thought, he would soon be packing his bags. Instead, the Phillies opted to stash him on the bench instead of moving him to a team looking to upgrade their outfield.
Williams, Gabe Kapler said, became the team’s “closer,” meaning he would be used as the preferred pinch-hitter late in the game. Williams started the season with just one hit in his first nine pinch-hit tries, but his one hit was a key RBI single last week in Washington.
The Phillies valued Williams’ bat enough to keep him as a bench player. Roman Quinn could return this weekend from the injured list and Williams will likely stick around in favor of Aaron Altherr.
“It’s still early though. Anything can happen,” Williams said of being traded. “Somebody can go down or it could be a pitcher, like maybe we need a pitcher and they could say, ‘Williams is probably our biggest option,’ but I don’t really worry about it. I’m here right now so I’ll do anything I can for the team, play for those guys and play for myself, somewhat.
"I still joke about it with friends and family like ‘I’m still here?’ I can’t control me being in a trade and I’m on a winning team so I’ll ride it out and produce anyway I can.”
Williams, out of the lineup for another day, grabbed his bat earlier this week and headed for the batting cage. Most of his teammates had already left the field; they went to get ready for a game they would actually play in. Williams, in a cloak of anonymity, stepped into the cage and sent balls into the second deck of right field.
The ballpark was nearly empty. The game would start in a few hours. Williams would be watching from the bench. This is the new life for Williams and it’s almost the same as his old life. He’s just willing to accept it. There was no breakfast meeting scheduled for the morning.
“You can’t fight it,” Williams said. “If you fight it, it’s going to be all negative. I don’t have a choice so I was able to adjust to it pretty fast.”
The Phillies optioned struggling relived Edubray Ramos to triple A after he blew a save on Tuesday and allowed three earned runs on Wednesday. They will make a corresponding move before Friday’s game. That move could be the promotion of righthander Victor Arano, who has pitched well at triple A after a rough spring training...Jake Arrieta will start Friday’s series opener in Miami against righthander Sandy Alcantara.
Get insights on the Phillies delivered straight to your inbox with Extra Innings, our newsletter for Phillies fans by Matt Breen, Bob Brookover and Scott Lauber. Click here to sign up.