MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Wilson well-suited for analytic nature of pitching

Wilson well-suited for analytic nature of pitching

LOS ANGELES -- At 31, C.J. Wilson is not a young pitcher. But he is a young starting pitcher, still evolving, still figuring things out on the fly.

A center fielder in college when he wasn't pitching, he has spent his entire Major League career in the wrong league, given his preference for the National League game that involves the pitcher as a hitter.

"It's fun," Wilson said, having watched the one and only Ernesto Frieri preserve a 2-1 decision over the Dodgers on Wednesday night with a ninth-inning high-wire act that gave the Angels the Interleague series. "You're playing the whole game. It's real baseball."

There was no Matt Cain perfection from Wilson in this one, just a solid, professional piece of work by a craftsman.

A reliever for five years with Texas before becoming a starter in 2010, Wilson performed capably enough in the Rangers' rotation -- emerging as the ace of an American League championship club in 2011 with Cliff Lee's departure -- to draw a five-year $77.5 million commitment from the Angels. He was the name beneath Albert Pujols on the marquee in the greatest single-day free-agency bonanza in history last winter.

  • 142 wins
  • 110 wins

Wilson, a Southern Californian to the bone, will be 35 in the final year of his contract. By then perhaps he'll have figured it all out. In the meantime, he seems to be thoroughly enjoying the challenges in front of him, even if it means he doesn't get to pick up a bat as often as he'd like.

Facing the geographical rivals for the first time, Wilson gave the Angels yet another quality performance, seven one-run innings, without his best stuff.

"I made enough mistakes tonight to lose the game," he said. "But I made a couple of good pitches with guys on base and the defense made some good plays behind me. That was the difference for me.

"This is the low point in the run I'm on. That's why you'll see me walk around the mound. There's a lot of work involved in this. This is extremely hard."

The worst pitch he threw was the one that cost him the run, a two-out first-inning RBI double stroked to right-center by Andre Ethier.

When he retired Jerry Hairston on a grounder to strand Ethier, the Dodgers had all their scoring in what would be a very frustrating night for manager Don Mattingly and Co.

"I spend 16, 17 hours a day with a stock ticker in my head," Wilson said, trying to explain the mental demands of his high-pressure job. "There's an infinite amount of things you can do as a pitcher."

What it boils down to, always, is somehow balancing yourself and staying in control even when you're not feeling totally in control. That's what happened early when Wilson knew he wasn't right and had to correct things, in the dugout, with pitching coach Mike Butcher.

"The first two innings," Wilson said, "I was getting long and loopy. So I went down and talked to Butch and had to make an adjustment. It's hard to adjust when you're out there trying to get guys out. It's like you're fighting a battle on two fronts."

Mentally, it was easier, oddly enough, when he was closing games for the Rangers for three seasons before making the transition to starting. You're operating on pure adrenaline when you reach back and bring your best heat. When you walk away, you've saved the game or blown it.

"The main difference between a starter and reliever is the effort level on your fastball," he said. "As a reliever, you give up a run, the game's over."

As a starter, you can give up a run, as Wilson did to the Dodgers, and continue to pitch and think and pitch. You can load the bases with three walks, as he did in the sixth inning, and make the right pitch to James Loney and get a fly ball to the phenom in center, Mike Trout, and it's all good.

"You have to prevent momentum," he said. "Whether it's an error, a hit, a bloop double, you have to stop things right where they are. There's no such thing as flipping a switch off and on. There are ebbs and flows, whether it's a 2-1 game or a 10-8 game."

Wilson and young Nathan Eovaldi staged an old-school duel before Erick Aybar, emerging from an offensive funk, unloaded a homer to right in the ninth against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.

It became the difference when Frieri worked out of a first-and-third jam with none out in the ninth, finding the right pitch and getting a smart play at short by Aybar to send the hometown crowd home unhappy.

Wilson is 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA in 14 starts, with 76 strikeouts in a team-high 86 innings. He's 3-0 with a 0.77 ERA in five starts since May 22, giving his new employers everything they could have wanted.

He's on a roll. On the other hand, at 31, he's just getting started.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.