video thumbnail

LAA@MIN: Wilson hurls seven frames in Angels debut

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ever since C.J. Wilson joined the Angels four months ago, he has essentially been "the other guy." From the opening news conference to the seven weeks of Spring Training to the opening series of the regular season, most of the talk surrounding the new-look Angels has centered on Albert Pujols (the iconic slugger who agreed to terms on the same day) and not Wilson (the former Rangers ace who returned to his California roots).

On Monday afternoon, at a chilly Target Field, Wilson finally had his moment. It was neither dramatic nor particularly memorable, and it came 2,000 miles away from his new home stadium in Anaheim.

But it was effective -- seven innings of one-run ball, leading the Angels to a 5-1 victory that came after back-to-back losses and before an off-day.

Prior to that, Wilson was the forgotten man in the Angels' offseason shopping spree (you'd expect that on a team that also acquired Pujols). He was slotted fourth, referred to himself as the short lefty trying to fit in and once said he was "just window-dressing" in this dynamic rotation.

At last, Wilson got a chance to put his stamp on his new club.

Then he downplayed it.

"It's a team, man, I don't really care about that," Wilson said after giving up three hits in a workman-like 104-pitch outing. "I don't care where I pitch. It doesn't matter. As long as we win, as a team, that's all that matters."

Quietly yet effectively, Wilson was the Angels' best pitcher this spring, posting a 1.11 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. In the first road game of the season, Wilson did what Dan Haren and Ervin Santana couldn't before him -- pitch effectively in a season debut -- while limiting the Twins to only a Josh Willingham solo homer despite an escalating pitch count.

It wasn't pretty. Pitching in 45-degree weather -- as a California native, a former Texas pitcher and a player who spent the last month and a half in Arizona -- hardly ever is. Wilson had a hard time getting a feel for his pitches, dropped his release point a few times to offer different looks and was in and out of the strike zone all afternoon.

But thanks to a sinker that got better as the game went on, Wilson got a whole lot of ground balls. Of his 21 outs, 16 were grounders. The other five were strikeouts. The only fly ball? Willingham's homer on a still-developing changeup.

"He misses the strike zone just enough to keep you on our toes and backs you off the plate a little bit," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, whose club is now 0-4 to start the season. "He throws the living fire out of the ball and has great movement."

The Angels' offense set the tone early by doing something they struggled with Sunday -- hit with men on base and produce behind Pujols, who grounded out to third base four times.

One day removed from going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and seeing their Nos. 4-5-6 hitters finish 1-for-14, the Angels (2-2) scored in the first inning with two-out RBIs from No. 5 hitter Torii Hunter (single) and No. 6 hitter Bobby Abreu (ground-rule double).

Twins starter Nick Blackburn then settled down, retiring 15 straight batters, including the last out of the first inning.

Then in the seventh, the Angels widened the lead, with Chris Iannetta contributing a two-run double -- in what's usually a bunting situation on a Mike Scioscia-led team -- and then scoring on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by shortstop Erick Aybar.

"The situational hitting last game was rough, and we bounced back early and got some big two-out hits," Scioscia said. "Those early runs, even though it was only a couple, definitely helped C.J., because he had to face [Joe] Mauer and [Justin] Morneau with guys on and was able to make some pitches and get out of them."

One of Wilson's biggest points of emphasis in the spring was pitch efficiency, but he didn't have that in his first start of the season, which saw him walk four batters -- after walking five all spring -- and use up 90 pitches by the time he took the ball for the seventh.

But Wilson, who had the best road ERA in the Majors last season, got a double play and a groundout to notch the win -- and have his moment.

"He's a starting pitcher, so you have five days to get your moment," Hunter said. "Players, we play every day, and for him, it took him four days just to go out there and show what he can do, and he went out there and did a great job against a team that can really swing the bats."

MLB.com Comments