Wilson's conversion leads him to Game 2 nod
Rangers benefit from lefty's closer mentality in starting role
ST. PETERSBURG -- C.J. Wilson was so confident about his transition from closer to starter this season that he predicted the Rangers would reach the playoffs.
"When I gave the hard sell to J.D. [general manager Jon Daniels] last year, I forget whether it was during the season or after the season, I told him that if I had a good year, we're going to go the playoffs," Wilson said on Wednesday.
Wilson had a good year, posting a 15-8 record and 3.35 ERA for the Rangers, who reached the postseason for the first time since 1999. And now, instead of throwing his first postseason pitch at the end of a playoff game, he will deliver the first pitch vs. the Rays in the bottom of the first inning in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at 1:30 p.m. CT on Thursday on TBS at Tropicana Field.
"I thought C.J. was up to the challenge," team president Nolan Ryan said. "His stuff is some of the best stuff in the game. C.J. just needs to control his emotions and not get too uptight about it. I like his stuff. He has three big league pitches.
"I just felt like being left-handed, and being as durable as he was, he would be more meaningful, giving us innings rather than one inning in a winning situation late in the game."
Wilson emerged as one wise dude.
"When things go according to plan, everybody looks smart," he said. "I guess everything went according to plan with the transition to starting. Everything is good."
It got even better later in the day when the Rangers notched a 5-1 victory over the Rays in Game 1 of the best-of-five series. Wilson can make it a Texas two-step in Game 2.
Wilson's last three starts
|Oct. 2||LAA||5||4||2||W, 6-2|
|Sept. 27||SEA||5||8||6||L, 7-5|
|Sept. 22||at LAA||6||3||1||W, 2-1|
Rangers manager Ron Washington pointed out that Wilson became a reliever because of an injury and moving him back into a starting role made perfect sense.
"He is a special case because he has both mentalities," Washington said. "He has the mentality of going out there, trying to get through a lineup as long as he possibly can and he has the mentality of going out there and stopping stuff when it starts."
So whether Wilson pitches a clean inning, or gets into trouble, he has the experience and can tell himself that he's been there, done that and pitches accordingly.
Wilson steps on the postseason stage for the first time in his career feeling more confident than you might expect from a hurler who won one of his final six starts of the regular season.
The final month was a complete flip-flop from the previous month, when he went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in six starts in August.
"I would say mostly it was just the walks," Wilson said. "I had a couple of walks and stuff that ran up my pitch count early in September and kind of skewed the numbers a little bit."
Wilson vs. Rays
|June 4||Rays||5||6||3||W, 9-6|
Perhaps it had more to do with the wear and tear on his left arm. He tossed a career-high 204 innings and his strikeouts went down from August to September -- from 40 to 26 -- more than his walks went up, from 14 to 15.
The innings difference was huge. He logged just 73 2/3 innings in 2009 while appearing in 74 games.
Wilson also attributed the slow finish to the Rangers having a firm grip on first place down the stretch.
"We were trying to get ready for the playoffs," he said. "You have a couple of tuneup games where you throw five innings or whatever."
One of the keys for him in Game 2 is keeping the Rays' running game in check. He faced the Rays once during the regular season, surviving a four-run second inning en route to a 9-6 victory on June 4.
He went five innings, walked four, struck out five, allowed no stolen bases and the Rays went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Wilson realizes the game plan that awaits him and is ready for it.
"I guess being left-handed you have somewhat of an advantage because you can kind of see what's going on," he said. "But at the same time, they are going to try to use some sort of hocus-pocus to get me out of my rhythm.
"I mean that's part of the game of a fast team. They use their speed to disrupt the rhythm of the pitcher."
It worked well during the regular season. The Rays led the AL with 172 stolen bases, which helped make up for the second-lowest batting average in the AL -- .247.
Tampa Bay scored 802 runs, the third highest in the league, and 15 more than the Rangers, who batted .276 as a team.
Wilson said he knows all about putting the game in motion.
"I used to play center field and would steal bases when I was a kid," he said, "so I understand what it's like to be on the other side."
Turning more serious, he said the Rays are more like a National League team.
"They are going to to try to get on base and advance so it takes only one hit, or maybe a sacrifice fly or something to score," he said. "So you feel if you can isolate that guy and [keep] him at first base, then you're probably not going to give up any runs in that inning."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.