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April 28, 2010
C.J. Wilson faces the White Sox
After a successful experiment in the spring that ended with entrance into the rotation, former reliever C.J. Wilson has rattled off four straight quality starts to begin 2010. His continued success would go a long ways towards ensuring the Rangers stick at or near the top of the American League West, so the question is whether or not that is possible since relievers are not exactly known to always make the conversion into become successful starters.
Wilson always had a deep repertoire for a reliever, with a four-seam fastball that could hit 95 mph, a changeup and a slider. As a starter, he's dropped the four-seamer in favor of a two-seamer with movement that tails away from right-handers, moving between 89-92 mph. He uses all of these pitches low and inside to hitters, focusing on picking up ground balls off the end of bats and forcing opponents to pop up the ball up off the lower half of their bats.
This tactic was on display Tuesday night against the White Sox, and was even more evident due to Wilson's mound opponent, Mark Buehrle. Also a left-hander, Buehrle works the same way with the same set of pitches. The main difference between the two is that Buehrle works very fast and doesn't waste as many pitches, though Wilson has the velocity to make up for that and an infield defense that can help compensate for the walks thanks to his ground-ball tendencies.
Wilson induced three straight grounders to third base to begin the game, working low in the zone and forcing White Sox hitters to swing at pitches they couldn't do anything with. He generally stayed ahead in the count early, but when he fell behind to Alex Rios 3-1 in the second inning, he threw an excellent fastball that tailed away from the right-hander—it harmlessly dribbled off the end of his bat, negating the advantage of the 3-1 count for Rios.
Wilson showed a great understanding of how to pitch contextually, which is impressive for a reliever who, even with the deep pool of pitches to pull from, relied heavily on his fastball and its velocity in the past.
Just 59 of Wilson's 104 pitches were strikes, but, in the same vein as his last two starts (13 against Boston and 10 against the Yankees) he was able to pick up enough groundball outs (nine) that it didn't matter. The Rangers infield defense is solid enough that it can contribute to Wilson's success, and he strikes out enough hitters (five in six innings last night, 7.4 per nine so far in 2010) that he can get himself out of jams as well.
Even if Wilson can just do a passable Mark Buehrle impression, the Rangers have themselves a good starting pitcher to work with. Given his stuff and the ability to mix pitches and locations though, chances are good that Wilson could wind being even better than good.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .