Lakeland, Fla. — If he can ever master the pitch, Justin Wilson may owe a debt of gratitude to former Tiger Andrew Miller.
Wilson was Miller’s teammate in New York last season, both left-handers in a shutdown back end of the Yankees’ bullpen. He was able to get a close-up look at Miller’s devastating slider.
“He has an unbelievable slider,” Wilson said. “It’s part of the reason I’d like to have one. He’s got a little different arm angle, but he’s got great stuff. How he pitches guys, moving the fastball around the zone and throwing the slider any time he wants — that’s impressive to watch and learn from.”
Wilson has done very well for himself without the slider. Throwing his upper-90s fastball 80 percent of the time last season, he was 5-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He struck out 66 in 61 innings and opponents hit .223 against him.
“The slider would be another weapon to have out there,” he said. “I don’t really know where it would take me. Just something else hitters have to worry about.”
As for secondary pitches, he has relied mostly on a cutter, which he usually throws at 91 mph. If he could add a slider, something in the mid-80s with movement, it would give him a better off-speed option.
“It’s a work in progress,” Wilson said. “It has been good some days and hasn’t been good on other days. I’ve talked to a lot of guys about it, just playing around with grips and things, trying to find something that’s comfortable.”
It’s been an uneven spring for Wilson, though in terms of health and arm-strength he is right on schedule.
“Outing-wise, I’ve been out there about the same amount of time,” he said. “Clearly I haven’t pitched as well as I’ve wanted, but the progression is right. I feel great out there, I feel healthy and the fastball is coming out good.”
In four outings this spring he has allowed seven hits, four runs and a long home run to the Mets’ left-handed hitting Lucas Duda. For perspective, 83 left-handed hitters came to bat and none hit a home run off Wilson last season.
“I’ve thrown some good pitches that have been hit and I’ve thrown some bad pitches that should’ve been hit,” he said. “I’ve pretty much minimized the damage, I guess, but you want clean innings.”
The Tigers are entrusting the seventh and eighth innings to Wilson and right-hander Mark Lowe. It will be their job to get the ball to closer Francisco Rodriguez.
“It’s coming,” he said. “My arm strength will come as we approach the season. And, actually, I am happy with where I am right now.”
The Tigers have spent a lot of time early in the mornings before games working on pickoff moves to second base. And until Wednesday, the results had been nil.
Signs were missed by the pitchers usually, but by the infielders a time or two, as well. Timing has been off and throws have been wild.
In the third inning Wednesday, though, Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Jose Iglesias worked it to perfection — picking Astros' Carlos Correa off second base.
“I saw a few pitches before that (Correa) was kind of daydreaming,” Zimmermann said. “I looked at Iggy like, ‘Whenever you want to flash the glove, I’m ready to spin.’ We picked a good time.”
The spin, the throw and the timing between pitcher and fielder was textbook. Correa was dead in his tracks.
“That’s why we have spring training, to get those issues ironed out,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “A lot has to do with the signs. We’ve done a much better job the last two weeks with that.”
Alex Wilson update
Alex Wilson (rotator cuff fatigue) threw from 120 feet Wednesday. He will throw out to that distance again on Thursday. If all goes well, he will throw off the mound for the first time in three weeks on Saturday.
Alex Wilson working out to 120 feet and Jeff Ferrell working on mechanical change with Rich Dubee