Wilson: Shoulder ailment unrelated to ’15 fatigue

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Alex Wilson

Lakeland, Fla. — The easy assumption is the shoulder strain reliever Alex Wilson is dealing with now is a direct result of being overused by the Tigers last season.

Easy assumptions are often wrong.

“This is something completely random,” Wilson said Monday morning, minutes before he was to test the shoulder again, throwing from 90 feet. “I don’t think it’s related at all (to last year). I was just throwing and something bit me (a sharp pain). I just strained a lat muscle. I wasn’t feeling tired or anything. I threw five bullpens before anything happened.”

Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand called Wilson’s ailment rotator cuff fatigue, which is essentially what shut him down for the final two weeks of last season.

“It’s all in the same area, kind of in the back of the shoulder,” Wilson said. “But I literally don’t feel it on anything other than throwing.”

Wilson threw a career-high 1,014 pitches and 70 innings last season. He took the ball on a day’s rest or less 30 times. In May and June he threw 510 pitches in a span of 50 days. He worked long relief and short relief, pitched early in games, in the middle innings and at the end of games.

In retrospect, it seems like shoulder fatigue was inevitable, not as much from the actual number of pitches and innings, but their accumulation over a relatively short span of time.

“I didn’t pitch the first two weeks of the season or the last two weeks of the season,” Wilson said. “So I missed basically a whole month of the season and still finished in the top 10 in innings pitched for relievers. If those innings would have been spread out over another month, it’s not a big deal at all.

“I just got them crammed together. It was a learning experience but also a good experience for me.”

Manager Brad Ausmus said he doesn’t think there is any correlation between Wilson’s work load and his recurring shoulder soreness, either, but it’s an issue he’s vigilant about.

“The truth is, you don’t really ever know,” he said. “Every pitcher’s body and arm responds differently. Some are more resilient than others. You want to protect these guys as much as you can.

“But there is a balance between protecting them and trying to win baseball games.”

Wilson, who didn’t pick up a ball for more than six weeks after last season ended, said he understood Ausmus’ hands were tied last season and has no regrets.

More than that, he’s thankful for the opportunity he was given.

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“Without doing what I did last year, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now,” he said, meaning he has earned the trust of the coaching staff and once healthy has a spot on the 25-man roster. “Everybody has to earn their stripes in certain ways. We were in a tough spot last year; we struggled as a bullpen unit and I got my number called a fair bit.

“I wouldn’t change it for anything. It gave me the opportunity I’d been searching for years for.”

He said what last year taught him was limits, that his body has them. His mentality is to take the ball every time he’s called upon and pitch until they take the ball away. He knows now he may have to sometimes decline.

“Moving forward, you have to think about your future,” he said. “If you need a day or two, I mean, it’s better to take a day or two than to miss a month or two down the road.”

If all goes well Monday, Wilson will back up to 120 feet on Wednesday. After that, he would throw a bullpen or two and then begin facing hitters.