Eager to erase doubts, Wilson 'ready to rock'
Giants closer sharp after nine-day layoff from big league hitters
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's been more than seven months since Brian Wilson looked like himself. To hear him tell it, he's been himself all spring, but it's been hard for others to gauge because he had made only three appearances until facing the Royals in a scoreless inning Monday.
It had been nine days since Wilson last faced big league hitters in a 35-pitch inning against the A's. He pitched twice in the Minor Leagues, Thursday and Saturday, but came back with a roar, striking out his first batter, then yielding a single up the middle before retiring the next two for a 15-pitch inning to add to his three previous scoreless outings.
"It was important for him and us," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had good stuff today. He was just missing on some of those pitches. He had good command and good stuff, and he felt fine coming out of the game. He looks good to go."
On that note, Wilson went a long way toward reaching his primary goal of the outing -- resolving any doubts about his health. He's taken it slow this spring after elbow inflammation limited him to four appearances after Aug. 7 last year.
"Overall in Spring Training I just want to get another check on the checklist as far as the people that are concerned with my health," Wilson said. "I know that I'll be starting the season healthy and finishing it healthy. But I understand that there's speculation, and today was just another positive check mark as far as throwing 15 pitches."
Both of Wilson's Minor League appearances in the past week came when he otherwise would have faced the Rockies. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain skipped the same games to avoid over-familiarity from a divisional rival's lineup, but Wilson's attempts to rebound after his last two months in 2011 have brought added scrutiny to anything that seems like a setback.
"There are certain pitches that you're able to throw without having the pressures of performance," Wilson said of his desire to use Minor League appearances to hone his stuff. "It's completely different mechanics when you're going out there and trying to compete for three outs rather than trying to work within yourself."
The low-pressure outings seem to have paid off, and Wilson emerged from his return to the Cactus League re-energized and confident that the work had been worthwhile.
"To be honest, I probably should have started off with a few more games in the Minors to make sure the arm slot was 100 percent ready and effective," Wilson said. "I'm glad it worked out the way it did, because I was able to work on a few things."
Though Wilson's focus was on fine-tuning his mechanics after his body responded to adjustments he made in his offseason training program, Bochy described the issue as "general soreness" in the closer's right arm after his extended appearance on March 17.
"My mechanics were a little erratic, and I wasn't able to find the arm slot," Wilson said of his last outing, nine days earlier. "I came off two outings of nine pitches [and] 13 pitches -- [and jumped] to 35 pitches. We thought that it was probably necessary to have a few more outings of 20 pitches, monitored, and try to find the arm slot for the cutter."
The quest for a new arm slot comes as a result of Wilson's offseason changes. He shifted his focus from coming into spring with a powerful physique to coming in more flexible, and it's meant adjusting his mechanics to produce the same results from a changing body.
"A lot of pitchers are tight in the hips because of violent torque, so as you get older you need to get more flexible," said Wilson, who turned 30 on March 16. "Now that the hinges are a little looser, I have to re-find that slot, which takes two or three outings tops. You build muscle memory. You have to teach the arm to be in a new slot with your new flexibility."
With the season approaching, Bochy is as concerned about endurance as flexibility, and he's eager to see Wilson make back-to-back appearances in Cactus League games -- "He needs to do that" -- but it may not come as soon as Wilson's next scheduled game on Wednesday.
Rushing is not on Wilson's checklist. His spring pace has yielded the results he's after, for the most part, and he remained emphatic about squashing any doubts about his readiness to close games for the Giants.
"As far as trying to ease people's minds, I've done everything necessary and possible to make sure fans, teammates, the organization [and the media] are aware that I am healthy," Wilson said. "Bochy and my teammates know I could have pitched last August and September.
"You guys aren't me, you're not my arm."
Wilson's arm showed life on the mound Monday, maybe one mph or two slower than midseason form, which is about right for this stage of the Cactus League season. While he stressed the importance of not peaking in March and couldn't resist wishing for a triple-digit heater, he was satisfied with what he saw of the swings at his pitches.
"Let's be honest, I'd like to throw 110," Wilson said. "I don't know how fast it's going, so I can only gauge what hitters are doing. I can see a few of the fastballs I've been throwing, they've been late. That's what I'm looking for.
"I've been fortunate enough to throw mid-90s, and in the ninth inning it truly doesn't matter how hard you're throwing. I feel good right now, so that's what matters. I'm ready to rock."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.