Detroit — When last we saw Tigers right-hander Alex Wilson, he was seated on a couch in the Tigers clubhouse. His lower right leg was in a cast, a walking stick was at the ready and he wore a sad, exhausted look on his face.
“This is kind of like my season in a nutshell,” he said on that late September night. “I got skin cancer (on his nose), grinded through the second half of the season, my daughter (Rosie) broke her collarbone last night and I break my leg today — 2017 wasn’t real kind to me.”
Earlier that night he’d taken a line drive, hit with a 103.8 mph exit velocity by Twins' Joe Mauer, right above his right ankle which cleanly fractured his fibula. Still, in typically tough Wilson fashion, he somehow threw a practice pitch (though the pain was agonizing) and walked off the field, albeit with the help of trainer Kevin Rand and then pitching coach Rich Dubee.
“I’ve always told myself I’d never be carted off a field,” Wilson said that night. “This was hopefully as close as it comes.”
Flash ahead 10 weeks. Wilson, who got the cast off on Oct. 31, has been working out the last five weeks. He threw lightly for the first time on Wednesday.
“I’m getting close,” he said from his home in College Station, Texas. “By the new year, I’ll be more than 100 percent and going full bore. I should be able to show up at spring training like nothing ever happened.”
And if there are any lingering mental scars from the horrific nature of the injury — well, forget it, there aren’t.
“No, it’s not the first time I’ve ever been hit,” he said. “Honestly, I am not all that concerned about it. Just bad luck. I don’t know how it would be if I took one off the head or something like that, but just above the ankle? I don’t see it as life-threatening.
“Just turn the page and start fresh in February.”
A fresh start, with a new manager and pitching coach, could be just the tonic for Wilson after his travails in 2017. His ERA and WHIP ballooned to 4.50 and 1.36. Opponents hit .279 and slugged .438 against him, and he allowed a career-high seven home runs.
His mechanics got out of whack early and he never got back on track. He and new pitching coach Chris Bosio should hit it off — they are cut from the same cloth. Bosio, like Wilson, took a bulldog’s mentality to the mound when he pitched.
“I’m excited,” Wilson said. “Bosio has worked with a lot of guys that I personally know with the Cubs. It’s nice to know that he worked with a guy like Kyle Hendricks who doesn’t necessarily throw all that hard and he’s been able to be elite in the league.
“Bosio has worked with all sorts of pitchers, not just guys blessed with Cy Young-winning stuff. He’s had his fingerprints on all different types of people and pitchers.”
For now, though, Wilson’s focus is getting his body back in shape. He’s been doing physical therapy work for seven weeks and he’s been able to do other conditioning work for five weeks.
“I just started running 10 days ago,” he said. “I’d say I’m about 85-90 percent. I can jog fine. I just need to build up to sprinting, then I will be 100 percent.”
He said he didn’t lose much in terms of muscle mass from being in the cast, but he lost a lot of strength in his right leg.
“It took a while, and it’s still taking some time, to build it back up,” he said. “But I feel really good about where I am. I am comfortable again. There’s no limp or anything like that.”
As far as his throwing program, he said there won’t any setback. He typically begins his program after Thanksgiving, and he’s done the same this week.
“The injury didn’t set me back at all in terms of throwing, but as far as conditioning — that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I haven’t been able to do my normal running.”
He’s worn out elliptical machines, Stairmasters and stationary bikes, but the bulk of his offseason leg work involves running sprints. And he hasn’t been able to run sprints yet.
“Getting there,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.”
Wilson was expected to be one of five arbitration-eligible players who were tendered contracts by the Tigers before the 8 p.m. deadline Friday. Nick Castellanos, Shane Greene, Jose Iglesias and James McCann were also expected to be tendered.
“I am assuming they will tender me a contract,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything one way or another but in talking to my agent, it doesn’t sound like it will be anything other than they are going to tender me a contract.”
Wilson, who made $1.175 million last season, could be awarded as much as $2.1 million in arbitration (according to projections made by MLBTradeRumors.com). Typically, the Tigers prefer to work out a deal before it gets to arbitration in February.
“I am looking forward to the new (coaching staff),” he said. “Everything I’ve heard about Ron Gardenhire is the exact attitude that we need. I am looking forward to meeting him, talking to him and going to work with him.”