All-Star Wilson out to improve
Giants closer fueled by desire to 'get better each day'
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Sustaining one of the most successful and prolific seasons among Giants closers wasn't enough for Brian Wilson. He intends to top himself.That might be difficult to do after a year in which Wilson became only the eighth San Francisco reliever to make the All-Star team, joined Rod Beck and Robb Nen as the lone Giants to save 40 or more games and converted 24 consecutive save opportunities at one juncture.
But watch Wilson run row upon row of stairs in the grandstands before regular-season games, or stalk to and from ballpark exercise rooms, and it's obvious that resting on his record is something he'll do only after he retires from baseball."You set a bar and then you try to stay positive and get better each day, work on some sort of aspect of your game and don't lose focus," said Wilson, who turns 27 next month. "The only reason I was successful last year was because I wanted to be successful. If I continue to have that fight and urge, things are going to get better and better each year.
"I'm never comfortable. I'm never satisfied with things."Wilson's philosophy isn't merely a platitude he memorized from a sign in a locker room. He demonstrated the sincerity of his effort in 2007, when the Giants all but begged him to wrest the closer's role from Armando Benitez. But Wilson's rocky Spring Training performance forced them to option him to Triple-A Fresno to start the season. By the end of that year, though, he established himself as San Francisco's ninth-inning stopper. Infielder Kevin Frandsen, who shared an apartment with Wilson during the 2008 season, often discussed competitive drive with his roommate.
"There's always something you desire more," Frandsen said, articulating their mutual outlook. "You're never satisfied with what you've done, because when you are, you're ultimately going to be beat. What fuels him is being great."Wilson's incessant workouts fuel him, too.
"When I'm on the mound, I feel strong in certain aspects of my body and it helps create that force behind my fastball," he said. Wilson has studied various forms of exercise and nutrition by reading "a beaucoup number" of books. One dealt solely with water consumption. "It was a pretty boring book, but I know the essential value of water and what it can do for you," Wilson said.Skeptics would echo Wilson by insisting that he can do more despite his All-Star status, 41 saves in 47 chances and 9.67 strikeouts per nine innings. His ERA -- often a deceptive statistic for relievers, since it can be inflated by one or two poor outings -- was 4.62. Even some of his shutout innings were adventuresome.
"If you look at [his] pitches per inning [compared to other] closers, he worked the hardest," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday. Wilson threw an average of 19 pitches per inning in 2008. Though the difference is marginal, the National League's other two 40-save relievers, Houston's Jose Valverde and Philadelphia's Brad Lidge, averaged 17.3 and 17.9 pitches, respectively.The Giants want Wilson to rely less on his fastball that approaches 100 mph and use his slider and changeup more frequently. That became an issue last May 2 when Wilson, throwing exclusively fastballs, blew a save by yielding a 10th-inning homer to Philadelphia's Pat Burrell. Cactus League games offer the ideal scenario for Wilson to refine his secondary pitches.
"We want him to get to the point where he's comfortable throwing [them] at any time," Bochy said.Said catcher Bengie Molina, "We need to start mixing things up a little more, not only for the team, but for him to be more comfortable out there, knowing that he has one or two extra pitches that he can trust." For now, Wilson left no doubt where his trust lies. "When it comes down to it, I'm going to stop dilly-dallying out there, working on a pitch that everybody wants me to work on," he said. "I'm just going to throw my bread and butter and see what happens. You have to mix it up. But I'm always going to stand firm that a good fastball, located well, is going to be the best pitch in my arsenal." And even if a game or two slips away, Wilson won't let his confidence ebb. "You have to maintain focus, positive energy and belief in what you have," he said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.