Williams relied on control and toughness to compensate for a lack of velocity and dominating stuff. After two-and-a-half seasons spent working from the Toronto Blue Jays‘ bullpen, he got his first chance to start in July 1995. But after just three starts he went on the DL with shoulder problems that would require arthroscopic surgery. The injury wound up costing him nearly a full season, and he didn’t return for good until August 1996.
A full-time starter for the first time in his career, Williams won 19 games against 23 losses over the next two years. In December 1998 the Blue Jays traded him and right-hander Carlos Almanzar to the San Diego Padres for starter Joey Hamilton. After a horrific exhibition season performance (“Never in my life had I seen baseballs get that small that fast, said manager Bruce Bochy), Williams posted a 12-12 record with a 4.41 ERA for the last-place Padres. He finished strong, going 7-1 after August 16th.
After five starts in the 2000 season, Williams found himself bothered by numbness in his pitching hand. Doctors eventually discovered an aneurysm (an expanding blood vessel) under his right arm, a condition that could have cost him his hand if it had gone untreated. After the diagnosis he received a supportive phone call from former Blue Jays teammate David Cone, who had tossed seven innings of no-hit ball in his return to the mound after suffering a similar aneurysm in 1995.
Williams made a swift recovery from his May surgery and rejoined the club’s rotation in July. He wound up leading San Diego with four complete games while recording a 3.75 ERA, his lowest since becoming a starter.
In August 2001 an 8-8 Williams was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Ray Lankford. He won seven of his first eight decisions with St. Louis to aid the Cardinals late season playoff push.