Detroit — A lesser man, certainly one less secure in his own ability, would have been upset, maybe even worried.
Alex Wilson? Nah. He was excited.
“Yeah I’m excited,” he said. “Bringing in guys like that can’t help but be a boost. It’s going to be a different feel out there this year. They brought in veteran guys that have been doing it a lot and being doing it in impressive fashion.”
The guys he’s talking about — Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe — were brought in to anchor the back end of the Tigers bullpen. Wilson, you will recall, almost literally pitched his arm off in that role for the Tigers last season.
The rebuilt back end leaves Wilson in a fight to win a spot in middle relief.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I knew going into the offseason we were going to make some moves and, like I said last year, I will do anything for this team to win. If that means me throwing the sixth and part of the seventh and connect the game to those guys, then that’s my role.
“Things change. We saw that last year.”
Things change; that could have been Wilson’s creed last year. Change one: He was traded from Boston to Detroit with Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello last offseason. Change two: He struggled early and didn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training.
Change three: He quickly fixed a mechanical flaw in his delivery and was called up to the Tigers on April 24 and never looked back. The only thing that changed after that was his role.
He pitched long relief at first. He even made one start. He took the ball every time he was summoned and pitched in every inning, one through nine, plus four extra innings.
By June, he’d established himself as one of manager Brad Ausmus’ most dependable bullpen arms. He and left-hander Blaine Hardy were sharing the set-up role to closer Joakim Soria. When Soria was traded, Wilson got eighth-inning duty, as well as being called on to close for a few games.
When the dust settled, he posted a 3-3 record with a 2.19 ERA and a 1.029 WHIP. He’d also thrown 1,014 pitches in 70 innings and by the end of the season could barely raise his arm over his head.
“I think I learned a lot from it,” he said. “It wasn’t so much the innings, it was how I got the innings. It’s something to look back on and learn from.”
There were 30 times Wilson took the ball on a day’s rest or less. In May and June, he threw 510 pitches over a span of 50 days. By July, he was throwing in high-stress situations late in games and the arm never fully recovered.
He developed shoulder fatigue in early August and it flared up on him again in September. He didn’t need surgery in the offseason, just an extended rest. He didn’t pick up a baseball for nearly three months.
“Everything is on track,” he said. “I am back to doing my normal throwing program.”
Wilson, now 29, said he believes the addition of Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Lowe will better enable Ausmus to establish set roles in the bullpen. Which should prevent the arm abuse he went through last year.
“Having a set role would have a big impact on how I feel throughout the year,” he said. “But you never know what’s going to happen. Just be ready for whatever job they hand you.”