Wilson battles, but shines, to stop slide
Lefty tosses 8 2/3 shutout innings, strikes out 12 Orioles
BALTIMORE -- C.J. Wilson's dominant effort didn't unfold in traditional fashion: with the Texas left-hander dispatching opposing batters at ease. The way Wilson tells it, he was pitching practically in self defense as he steamrolled the Orioles' lineup en route to a 2-0 victory Friday night that snapped the Rangers' four-game losing streak.
"I was getting pretty upset, because after three innings, it was looking like I was going to have another short outing," Wilson said after striking out a career-high 12 and finishing one out shy of his first career shutout. "So I just really tried to force them to swing. They didn't swing, so they were strikes. It wasn't like I was trying to bounce three sliders in a row. I would take one shot maybe at a swing and miss, and the rest of them I'd try to throw strikes."
Wilson (12-5) was on target, allowing three hits in 8 2/3 shutout innings and remaining unbeaten in seven starts dating back to a 4-1 home loss to Baltimore on July 11. The left-hander walked one and really only had trouble with one Orioles hitter: Julio Lugo, who singled in the first and doubled in the third. Brian Roberts also doubled to lead off the ninth.
"[Wilson] just found the spot in that strike zone and he stayed there," agreed Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He and the umpire were on the same page all night. He threw some good changeups, spotted his fastball, threw a few breaking balls. But for the most part, he stayed off the middle of the plate and made them work for their at-bats."
What worked for Wilson against the Orioles?
"That's the problem, I had so many different pitches working -- everything except the curveball, pretty much," he said. "I had the slider, the changeup, the sinker, the cutter -- they were all kind of doing their thing. It was just one of those nights, I guess. The big thing was pitching on the corners of the zone -- down and away, down and in, whatever."
For a while, it looked like the Rangers were going to have to make due with a one-swing offense to preserve Wilson's gem. Mitch Moreland homered for his second straight start to help Texas snap a six-game road losing streak and halt the Orioles' five-game win streak at the Rangers' expense. It was the sixth shutout of the season for the Rangers, who improved to 13-22 against the American League East.
"Four-game skid, that was a little tough. I feel like that right there might have straightened us out," said Moreland.
Josh Hamilton, who entered the game in an 0-for-11 funk and hitless in three consecutive games for the first time since April, went 2-for-5 and drove in an insurance run in the seventh inning.
But even on a night when they completely handcuffed the Orioles, the Rangers still had to sweat out their victory. After Roberts moved to third on a ground ball for the second out of the ninth, Neftali Feliz came on to retire Luke Scott on a foul pop to the catcher and record his 30th save of the season. It was the Rangers' first save in seven August wins.
Following Roberts' double to right-center, Wilson got his 12th strikeout, catching Lugo swinging. Then Felix Pie grounded out, and out came Washington to make a pitching change that didn't exactly please Wilson.
"[Washington] knows I hate getting pulled. ... I was in closer mode already," said Wilson, a ninth-inning option for Washington for the past three years before being converted into a starter this spring.
Said Washington: "Of course C.J. wanted to stay in, but he'd gotten us 8 2/3 [and] it's Nefi's job to get us out of that game. He made easy work for Nefi to have to just get one out."
Another slimmest of margins -- two feet against an inexperienced left fielder -- had given Wilson a 1-0 lead. Moreland, who homered Wednesday at Tampa Bay, sneaked an opposite-field homer just inside the left-field foul pole and into the first row of the stands for a 1-0 Texas lead in the second. Moreland's third homer of the season came on a 3-2 fastball from Orioles starter Jake Arrieta and landed 335 feet from home plate, narrowly clearing the wall at 333 feet without a vigorous pursuit from Lugo, who was playing left field for the first time since 2008.
"They all count the same, don't they?" Moreland responded. "That's plenty enough for me."
Other than that, the Rangers largely squandered scoring chances, with throws by Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters twice thwarting rallies. Texas had a hit in each of the first eight innings.
Hamilton hit a first-inning double when Lugo misplayed his liner to left, but was stranded. After Moreland's homer, two-out singles by Andres Blanco and Julio Borbon put runners at the corners, only to see Borbon caught stealing.
In the fourth, David Murphy hit a one-out single and Taylor Teagarden drew a two-out walk, but Murphy was picked off second by Wieters for the final out. Teagarden grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice with runners on first and second in the fifth.
Arrieta (4-5) departed after walking Michael Young to put runners at first and second in the seventh. The right-hander allowed two runs -- one earned -- on eight hits, while walking three and fanning three. Mark Hendrickson came on in relief and surrendered a broken-bat single to right-center by Hamilton, making it 2-0.
Wilson's effort even drew praise from the losing pitcher.
"I give a lot of credit to C.J. for his effort today," Arietta said. "He kept our hitters off balance, mixed it up and down, kept the ball down -- that was the biggest thing. It was a quality effort today."
Wilson had to weather only one iffy ball hit deep to the outfield. In the seventh, Adam Jones ripped a fly ball to the gap in right-center that was snagged by Borbon, in a full-out dive, for the second out of the inning. It was the 12th out in a streak of 16 Baltimore hitters retired by Wilson in a row at one point.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.