SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For all the great numbers C.J. Wilson posted in his breakout season -- 15 wins, 3.35 ERA, 204 innings, 170 strikeouts -- he had two forgettable numbers: 93 walks, second-most in the major leagues, which led to an average of 16.9 pitches per inning, the ninth-highest mark in the majors.
In Sunday's Cactus League Opener, Wilson didn't walk a batter, but he didn't have his best control and needed 40 pitches to get through two innings. The first three Kansas City Royals reached base and two scored before Wilson retired the next six batters he faced.
"I was out of it a little bit, out of my normal rhythm or my normal tempo," said Wilson, who struck out two. "I’ve been changing and refining my delivery over the last six months, so it’s something that’s still going to be a work in progress. That’s why we have another month here to iron it out."
Wilson has made the incredible jump from bullpen hand to experimental starter last season to No. 1 starter who will take the mound on Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox. Before then, Wilson said his primary focus is to reduce his number of pitches by being more efficient early in the count.
He threw 24 pitches in the first inning and fell behind two of the first three batters he faced, but he did get a first-pitch strike to four of the six batters he faced.
"I think the walk total is a component of a larger issue," Wilson said. "If you get ahead in the count more often, than hitters are going to be forced to be more aggressive even if you are out of the strike zone with your second pitch, your third pitch. The goal is to throw as few strikes as possible, but if you throw them right away then you’re not throwing that many pitches at all."
Wilson threw 3,341 pitches last season, 16th most in the majors in 204 innings. But, his 16.9 pitches per inning is higher than any of the 15 pitchers that threw more total pitches.
In Sunday's 16-pitch second inning, Wilson, who threw five different pitches including a couple of 77-mph curveballs, need eight pitches to get Chris Getz to ground, and then threw six pitches, including three consecutive balls after getting ahead of Alcides Escobar 0-2, but got a grounder to third and avoided a two-out walk .
"The one thing I am good at is minimizing guys hitting the ball over the fence. I proved that the last couple of years; it’s not something that happens very often," Wilson said. "So, if I take the walk total down a lot by having my mechanics more consistent which leads to more first-pitch strikes then it’s all going to go hand-in-hand."