Pitch count key to C.J. Wilson's success
Against a patient and powerful New York Yankees lineup, Wilson knows the key to going deep into the game is being more efficient. He led the American League in walks and he issued nine free passes -- along with 18 hits -- to the Yankees in 14 1/3 innings over three starts this season. His deepest outing was a rain-shortened, six-inning complete game in April. Had that game -- a 5-1 New York victory -- continued, Wilson likely wouldn't have. He had already thrown 112 pitches -- just 66 for strikes.
In his last two starts against the Yankees, Wilson threw 96 pitches (59 for strikes) in 5 1/3 innings on Aug. 10, but he managed to limit the damage to two runs; and he threw 75 pitches (42 for strikes) in just three innings on Sept. 10, allowing four runs.
In his Game 2 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays in which he lasted 6 1/3 innings, Wilson threw 104 pitches, 65 for strikes. He walked just two, but he got too deep in the count too often to stay in the game. In comparison, Cliff Lee, one of the most pinpoint pitchers in the game, threw 120 pitches in Game 5; 90 were strikes.
"The thing that hurt me in all three of the starts [vs. New York] was just the high pitch count from walks and stuff like that, falling behind in the count," Wilson said. "I think I'm just going to get that knuckleball over the plate first pitch and see where we go from there."
That drew a hearty laugh from the crowd. The knuckle ball is one of the few pitches that Wilson actually doesn't throw. He knows whatever he tosses at the Yankees, they will try to make him work and induce him into making a mistakes. And they make pitchers pay for making mistakes.
Just look at the stats. Among the eight teams in the first round, the Yankees (who swept the Minnesota Twins) had the highest batting average (.314), highest slugging percentage (.514), highest on-base percentage (.351), second-highest run total (17, the Rangers were first with 21, but played five games) and second-fewest strikeouts (18). Their 11 extra-base hits were by far the most among the six teams that played four games or less.
It will be interesting to see how C.J. comes out in Game 1. Manager Ron Washington said Wilson has gleaned tips to become more efficient from Lee. Pitch count will be critical. If C.J. can't get through the middle innings he will set up a long night for Rangers' relievers.
"C.J. has so many pitches and sometimes he was getting into the mold of trying to get people out instead of letting hitters get themselves out," Washington said. "I think that's what Cliff Lee has brought -- use your stuff, use it in the strike zone and usually good things happen. That's why you have defense out there. Recently, he's starting to throw more pitches over the plate. He's starting to trust himself more and he's starting to get quicker outs than he has in the past."
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