Lakeland, Fla. — The sixth hitter Alex Wilson faced Thursday in his first start of spring training hit a screaming line drive right back at him.
Of course he did.
Wilson’s season was ended last year when a liner by Twins Joe Mauer broke his right leg.
“Seems like I can’t catch a break right now with balls flying back at me,” he said. “But, hey, I caught this one.”
Wilson snared the liner, by Florida Southern’s Hayden Marze, right in front of his face. It was one of only two balls put in play against him in two scoreless, no-hit innings in the Tigers’ 6-1 win over Division II Florida Southern.
“Keep it above the waste and I am OK, apparently,” he said. “It was almost in slow motion to me. I saw the pitch go in, the bat hit the ball and it came right back to me. Funny how those things happen. I never saw Mauer’s at all.”
Wilson, attempting to transition from bullpen to starter, struck out five of the seven batters he faced.
“That’s half my strikeouts for the season,” he joked.
He threw 25 pitches, 19 strikes and only allowed only one base runner — on an error by second base prospect Dawel Lugo.
“Everything felt good,” he said. “I thought I was a little bit up, a little bit anxious getting out there for the first time. I only faced hitters once before today. But I located the ball fairly well, especially when I wanted to elevate or run a pitch or run a pitch off (the plate) or down.”
Wilson made his bones out of the bullpen by pounding the edges down in the strike zone. As part of the transition to starter, he feels he will need to elevate his pitches more frequently.
“Yeah, that’s something I’ve been working on, working north and south and not just east and west,” Wilson said. “I thought guys were able to window-box me a little bit last year, either down and away or down and in. If I can shoot one up there once in a while, it gives them an idea that, ‘Hey, he pitches up here, too.’
“That will help me, I think.”
Wilson threw all four of his pitches — fastball, cutter, curve ball and change-up. He was ahead of every hitter.
“Working ahead, working consistently ahead is huge,” he said. “It’s something I’m really going to need to focus on this year. This was a good start.”
Interesting that one of his five strikeout victims was Florida Southern catcher Austin Mauer. He is the nephew of Joe Mauer. As payback goes, well, this was mostly unsatisfying.
“Yeah, take that family,” Wilson said, laughing.
The Moccasins made a bid to end their 12-year losing streak in this annual pre-Grapefruit League tune-up. They scored an unearned run off Buck Farmer in the fourth (a walk and two errors) and made it hold up until the seventh when the Tigers scored three times.
Two wind-aided fly balls to deep center field did the damage — an RBI double by Rule 5 draftee Victor Reyes and a two-run triple by prospect Harold Castro.
Veteran Alexi Amarista, competing for a utility spot, had two hits, including a two-run double in the eighth.
But the focus for Ron Gardenhire will be on the four errors, four walks and several mental mistakes his team made.
“Honestly, this was perfect,” he said. “Because of all the teaching points we can throw out there. We baba-looed balls, we walked for guys, we didn’t break for the ball — it was the first game and whatever excuse you want to use for that — but this helps us more than if we just dominated the whole game.
“Now we can go out there and talk about this stuff.”
Besides the error by Lugo, catcher James McCann (one of only two starters in the game for the Tigers) made two errant throws to second, though the second one probably should have been stopped by shortstop Sergio Alcantra.
Third baseman Kody Eaves misplayed a ground ball that led to the Moccasins’ only run.
“This is why we’re going to keep working,” Gardenhire said. “It was the first game and we played a lot of young guys, but still, that’s a learning tool. Hopefully they will see it and say, ‘We were ugly.’
“And that’s what I want them to say because it’s a long process to get better.”
Around the horn
Jim Adduci, who produced an RBI single, played some first base Thursday, even though he has taken every rep this spring in the outfield. He was forced into it after Dominic Ficociello’s pinky finger on his glove hand popped out of its socket. It popped back in, but he was taken out as a precaution.
… The Tigers will take five regulars Friday to Tampa for the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees: Miguel Cabrera (DH), John Hicks (catcher), Nick Castellanos (right field), Leonys Martin (center field) and Jeimer Candelario (third base). Lefty Ryan Carpenter will get the start on the mound.
... Gardenhire said he received no communication from Major League Baseball regarding any potential repercussions with the Yankees. The two teams were involved in a brawl last August. This will be their first meeting since. The Yankees announced they weren’t playing catcher Gary Sanchez, one of the main combatants. “I don’t think they’d say anything about that,” Gardenhire said. “I mean, we don’t really care. I’ll take Booney (Yanks manager Aaron Boone). He may kick my butt, but I’ll take him.” He was joking.
... Gardenhire joked about how it might've looked if the Tigers had lost to a Division II college team: "Al (Avila, general manager) told me before the game, 'Just don't get beat by this team,' " Gardenhire said with a chuckle. "That's pressure for the first game of a manager. Just don't lose this one — I am just glad he was laughing as he walked away."