Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Wilson making strong push for starting job
By Richard Durrett
MESA, Ariz. -- When the idea of stretching C.J. Wilson out as a starter was broached, Wilson was told that he had to be better than a bottom of the rotation starter in spring training to earn a starting spot.
So after giving up one run and striking out five in four innings on Tuesday, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux was asked if Wilson looks like a quality starter in camp so far.
"His performance has been top of the list," said Maddux, who later added that Wilson is "in a good seat" in terms of his position for a starting job. Asked if Wilson was making it a tough call, Maddux responded: "He's making it a great call."
For C.J. Wilson, a chance at the Rangers' starting rotation has "been a long time coming."
Wilson helped his candidacy on Tuesday. In other words, he's still in the mix. He gave up one run -- a homer on a hanging curve ball to Jeff Baker -- and threw 47 pitches in four innings of work. He had five strikeouts, all of them looking (Wilson called them "location strikeouts") and pitched out of a jam in his final inning of work. Wilson put runners at second and third with no outs and said he got ticked off with himself.
"I told myself, 'I'm not going to let them score,'" Wilson said. "I talked to Nolan the other day about that. He said, 'Well, when you find yourself in a jam and they've already scored off you, you can't let them score again.' I knew with my sinker and the lefties that it would eat them up if I located well."
Wilson got the next three lefties he faced with ground outs to end the threat and finish his outing off in style. Wilson said in his previous outings that those runners scored, even if it was on ground balls that moved them over. He was focused on not letting that happen on Tuesday.
Wilson wasn't afraid to come inside to right-handed hitters, either, and worked in rhythm. He challenged hitters and commanded his fastball on both sides of the plate. He was pleased with his changeup and sinker, two pitches he worked on during his live batting practice session the other day. Wilson said he wants to get more consistent with his breaking balls and that will be a focus going forward. He's scheduled to pitch again on March 22 and this time he'll get a chance to start the game. He's scheduled to go 80 pitches (Neftali Feliz in relief).
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was impressed with Wilson's outing. He said he was "very good", staying within himself, under control and with good command.
It's clear how much Wilson desires to start.
"It's a pheonmenal opportunity," Wilson said. "You have to try. I've been working at it the whole offseason. I worked on it all last year during the season. It's been a long time coming. It's not like I've been working on it for three weeks. Because of that, it's got that momentum internally for me."
Maddux sees a pitcher that he believes is capable of getting batters out the second and third times he faces them.
Neftali Feliz has looked spectacular at times, but his struggles with consistency continue.
"He has command, throw four pitches for strikes and can throw it in any count," Maddux said. "He showed today the ability to go soft when ahead, hard when behind. When you have an array of pitches, you're never out of the count."
Wilson only faced two hitters twice because he came in for the fifth inning to start is outing. He should get a chance to face more hitters more than once on Monday.
Maddux believes there are pitchers that can handle Wilson's role in the bullpen if he earns a starting job. That's an important consideration should the club move Wilson. They have to feel comfortable about the bullpen options. Maddux said Darren Oliver could handle Wilson's role from last year and others in the bullpen could fill the other spots.
As for Feliz, the young Rangers pitcher was able to throw breaking balls for strikes and mix in some changeups. He pitched well the first time through the lineup, putting together two excellent innings. But he had some difficulty the second time through the lineup in his third inning. There was no radar gun at HoHoKam Stadium, but ESPN.com's Jason Grey had one and clocked Feliz at 94-97 mph mainly. He did throw faster than that at times.
Maddux said Feliz needs some more experience in how to deal with getting hitters out multiple times.
"Experience is a tough teacher. She gives the test first and the lesson later," said Maddux, always the philosopher. "There is a learning curve. He is doing something he has not done and that is face big league hitters more than one time through the lineup."
Feliz said he was working on his curve ball and changeup and felt like he made some adjustments.
"I'm capable of playing better," Feliz said through an translator. "I can pitch better."