He has been an invaluable, but underappreciated Baltimore Oriole since 1989, winning 18 of his past 23 decisions before this season and providing the ideal setup act to Gregg Olson.
"There are a lot of guys we could replace before him," said manager John Oates. "Willie is a very important part of our club, whether he has a hot hand or not."
Willie is Mark Williamson, and right now he does not have a hot hand. In recent weeks, his role has diminished because of an assortment of circumstances, and when he has pitched, he has not been effective.
In his past 10 appearances, Williamson is 0-3 with a 7.15 ERA and has allowed 21 hits in 11 2/3 innings. For the season, he has the highest ERA (4.48) among the relief corps and opponents have hit .278 against him.
He has pitched only five times in the past three weeks because a combination of improvement in the starting pitching (which means fewer relievers) and the excellence of veteran Mike Flanagan, who is in a similar role and can pitch to all kinds of hitters.
"We've been playing predominantly left-handed-hitting clubs, our starters have been getting through six or seven innings, and Flanny has been pitching very well," said Williamson.
"That hasn't meant much time for me, but I don't blame anybody. I'd go with the hot hand, too. And when I do get out there, I'm not getting people out. Maybe there's a correlation in that and less time."
In the first game of the current series Monday night, he was the victim of a ninth-inning, game-winning double by Robin Yount after the Orioles had erased a 5-0 deficit. But last night, he pitched a scoreless ninth in mop-up duty of a 13-5 victory.
"Willie's a little rusty," said pitching coach Al Jackson. "He knows work comes in bundles, but he has to pitch often to stay sharp. And our left-handers have been going decently, so we've used them. But his time will come."
Williamson was hampered by a tender elbow just after the All-Star break and then threw 74 pitches in a 15-inning game in Kansas City, Mo. He also has had the flu.
But he said he has "no excuses" now. "I'm fine. You've still got to get people out. I'm just not doing well."
Oates wants to get Williamson "more work, but it's not like the rest of the bullpen hasn't been doing a good job lately. You try to get the matchups you want so when we get to the mostly right-handed-hitting clubs like Boston, Willie and [Todd] Frohwirth will be worked to death."
The nature of the game is "to adjust," Oates said. "Everybody is not going to get to pitch or hit every day they want to."
Williamson's slump hardly has erased him from the Orioles' pitching plans. He is a vital member of the young staff.
The recent promotion of youngsters Mike Mussina and Stacy Jones and left-hander Jim Poole has had no effect on the numbers of innings Williamson gets.
"I didn't get many appearances before they got here," he said. "That has nothing to do with it."
Oates said: "He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He says, 'I was terrible,' after a bad game. But we'll get him going again. After a couple outings, everything will be fine."