Tigers' Alex Wilson a man of conviction on, off field

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
In Tigers reliever Alex Wilson last 31 appearances, he has allowed six runs in 40.2 innings.

Kansas City, Mo. — Alex Wilson expected a different line of questioning.

He took to Twitter late Thursday night to vent about quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s personal protest during the playing of the national anthem. He expected to be asked about his passionate stance.

And he was, ultimately.

But more germane to the matter at hand — the start of crucial three-game series against the Royals — was how Wilson has once again made himself an integral piece of a Tigers’ bullpen that since the All-Star break has been one of the stingiest in the American League.

“I know this last month I might end up carrying a little heavier load,” he said. “When it comes to September, and you are in a pennant race, you stick with guys you’ve been able to trust all year. I think there is a handful of us that might get some more work earlier in games than we’ve seen.”

With rookie starters Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris grinding to get through six innings recently, that has already been the case. Wilson has been summoned in some sticky early situations.

Like last Monday, when he bailed Boyd out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth inning. Or like two nights before that when he got out of first-and-third, one-out jam against the Angels.

“It’s funny, you go through two weeks of that (high-leverage appearances) and then you don’t find yourself in a big situation for two weeks,” he said. “But really, my mindset is the same, my preparation is the same. It changes with the scenarios, but I get ready the same way and as soon as I see the game evolve, I just try to play it out in my head.

“It’s a mind game, really. But it’s the same job. I have to be able to get the third out — whether it’s just the third out or all three outs.”

In the last six games, the Tigers’ bullpen has allowed just two runs in 19.1 innings. They’ve inherited six runners in that span and none of them have scored.

It’s been the job of Wilson, Kyle Ryan and Bruce Rondon to build a solid bridge to the back end of the bullpen, and they’ve been up to the task. Ryan has pitched scoreless ball in 12 of his last 13 outings. Rondon has allowed three runs in his last 12.2 innings with 19 strikeouts.

And Wilson, he’s allowed just six runs in his last 40.2 innings, spanning 31 outings. Opponents are hitting under .200 against him. And nine of those 19 appearances have been in the sixth inning.

This success has come after he made a slight adjustment to his money pitch — the cutter.

Kaepernick's protest irks Tigers' Alex Wilson

“I tweaked my grip about three weeks ago,” he said. “It’s been much more the cutter I am used to. It had gotten a little slider-ish and I think hitters started to see it better. It was doing OK because I was locating it well.

“Now I feel better, just confidence-wise, with my stuff.”

He throws the cutter 40 percent of the time. When he’s getting the late, lateral bite on it, as he has recently, it’s a swing-and-miss pitch. He’s gotten 64 swings and misses (19 percent) on 344 cutters this season, according to Brooks Baseball.

His stuff is sharp, his arm — unlike last season — feels strong and it’s September, a perfect storm for Wilson.

“Absolutely,” he said. “This is the best time of year. Football is starting, it’s September baseball, we’re in a playoff race — it’s a fun time. I love it.”

He did not love Kaepernick’s kneel down during the anthem and he definitely did not like his “pig” socks.

“I agree with what he says about trying to help,” Wilson said. “But, it’s two minutes out of your day to stand and respect your country and the flag that represents it — all the good stuff that is America.

“Why make (those two minutes) a negative? You’ve got the rest of the day to be negative — and the rest of the country will take it and run with it for you. There are so many better ways to do it. And then he wore those socks. His actions and his words are contradicting.”

Understand Wilson’s perspective on this. He comes from a military family and was born on a military base in Saudi Arabia.

“All of my family is entrenched in the military,” he said. “I have had three grandfathers and two uncles who served, and five current family members serving. My brother was in Afghanistan.”

It was after a long talk with a family friend Thursday night, a man with 30 years of military service who currently trains SWAT teams, that he chose to vent on Twitter.

“He said, ‘At first I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt,’” Wilson said. “‘Then he wore those socks again.’ It’s like it was OK because he’d worn them before. I was hot.”

Wilson regrets some of the language he used on Twitter. But he isn’t backing off his salient point: That there are better ways, better forums, for Kaepernick to express his views.

“I have the privilege of playing a game for a living,” Wilson wrote on Twitter. “I don’t take that for granted a single day of my life. I’ll never be a superstar and I’m OK with that. But what I do understand is I get to do what I love because of what others — and many people in my family past and present —have given up.

“Is it really that hard to stand up and respect a flag of the greatest country in the world?”

Twitter: @cmccosky