Blast by Harper aside, Tigers’ Wilson sees outing as step forward

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers pitcher Alex Wilson works against the Washington Nationals in the first inning Sunday.

West Palm Beach, Fla. – Alex Wilson threw a biting cutter on a 2-2 pitch, high and tight, in the first inning and Bryce Harper swung right through it. Inning over.

Harper came up again in the third inning, with two outs and a man on. Catcher John Hicks called for the same cutter again, this time on a 1-1 pitch, and, against his better judgment, Wilson complied.

Harper sent that cutter, which caught too much of the plate, screaming into a stiff wind. It cleared the right-field fence and nearly cleared the Nationals bullpen.

“You throw 62 pitches in a game and the one pitch you’re not fully convicted on leaves the ballpark,” said Wilson, who gave up three runs and five hits in 2.2 innings in the Tigers’ 6-2 exhibition loss to the Nationals Sunday. “That was super frustrating for me. I was out there talking to myself after that. But, better now and not later.”

BOX SCORE: Nationals 6, Tigers 2

Wilson hurled his glove at the back of the dugout wall after he was pulled with the bases loaded in the third. He had walked the last two batters he faced and he was displeased with the shrinking strike zone of home plate umpire Tom Woodring.

“I don’t need to say much about that, you saw my reaction,” Wilson said. “It is what it is, it’s spring training for them, too, I guess. Unfortunately, I was grinding there trying to get out of an inning and I thought it got a little tight after the (Harper) home run.”

The results are less important than the process at this stage for Wilson. It was his third start as he tries to transition from the bullpen to the rotation. And the process was well-served on Sunday.

“I thought I threw one bad pitch today,” said Wilson, referring to the cutter Harper mashed. “Other than that, I thought I executed pretty well. I felt good. I felt strong the whole time. The results, obviously, I would like to have not given up any runs or hits.

“But overall I feel really good. That’s as many change-ups as I’ve thrown in about 10 years. It was a big step forward in that department.”

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Whether he ends up starting or working in relief, the addition of a third pitch will be vital. He felt last year hitters were too often sitting on either his cutter or his two-seam fastball. He said he threw between seven and 10 change-ups Sunday.

“It should help against righties and lefties,” he said. “It should help my game all the way around. Having a third pitch I can throw at any time, I think that’s a big plus for me.”

He was throwing them in fastball counts, 1-0, 2-0, and he struck out Andrew Stevenson with one in the second inning. At one stretch of the second inning, he got five swings and misses on 10 pitches.

“That’s when I started to incorporate the change-up,” he said. “But using it is something I’m learning as we go. Putting sequences (of pitches) together with a change-up is not normal, not only for me, but for me and my catchers.”

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He felt like he was able to take more velocity off the pitch Sunday than he did in the first two outings. His fastball is 92-93 mph and the change-up was clocking 86-88. It will be a better pitch at 85-86.

“That’s just from throwing it and getting the feel for it,” he said.

He wishes he had shook to the change-up when Hicks called for the cutter against Harper.

“Hicks put down the cutter up, which is one of my strengths,” Wilson said. “I was thinking change-up and for whatever reason – I still can’t come up with an answer for why I didn’t shake. That was the one pitch I threw that wasn’t the pitch I was thinking.”

Wilson figured Harper would have the cutter on his mind after whiffing at it in the first inning. But he took full responsibility for the pitch.

“I just didn’t bury it in,” Wilson said. “It was up, I just didn’t get it in off the plate. And the guy is a former MVP and All-Star. You don’t get back bad pitches against those guys.”

What stop sign?

Miguel Cabrera spanked a single to center in the first inning and then later tried to score from second on a single to left by Jim Adduci.

Third base coach Dave Clark held up both arms to stop Cabrera at third, but Cabrera, who clearly saw the stop sign, kept barreling toward the plate. He was thrown out by several feet by left fielder Andrew Stevenson.

“I talked to him,” Ron Gardenhire said. “He said, ‘I just want to see what I can do. I want to see how I am feeling.’ As soon as we saw him go by him, I thought he just wants to stretch it out a little bit and see where he’s at.

“He told me that and I said just make sure you tell Dave that. It’s not a big deal. It wasn’t about anything other than he just wanted to run. He feels great and that’s good for us. But I told him, ‘Let’s keep it that way. We don’t want to get killed here, right?’ He said, ‘OK, I got you Skip.’”

Game bits

The left-handed hitting Adduci, who is raised his spring average to .438 and is challenging for an outfield-first base utility spot, had a pair of hits. His single in the first came with two outs and knocked in a run off Nationals starter and lefty Gio Gonzalez.

… Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, hitting right-handed, blasted an RBI triple to the gap in right-center field in the third inning.

… Right-hander Drew VerHagen ended the third inning with a three-pitch strikeout of Victor Robles, stranding the bases loaded. But he was touched for three runs in the fourth. “The ball comes out of his hand good,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a big guy standing out there and I like that angle he gets. It’s a process and we will see where everything fits, but I like his arm and I like the ball coming downhill like that.”

Twitter @cmccosky