Wilson goes from Texas bullpen to reliable starter

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — C.J. Wilson is coming off a complete game, has pitched at least six innings every start and is among the best in the American League with a 1.51 ERA.

Given his long-desired chance to be in the rotation again, five years after failing in that role as a rookie when coming off Tommy John surgery. Wilson then became a top reliever.

Now he has become the most reliable starter for the Texas Rangers.

"I'm just really filling out the job description, that's it," Wilson said. "There's no magic formula to like transitioning from one thing to the other or anything like that. It's not mystical in any sense."

The crafty and insightful left-hander is scheduled to make his seventh start of the season Thursday in the finale of a three-game series against AL West foe Oakland.

"He had eight pitches last year, but he could only use a couple out of the bullpen," manager Ron Washington said. "Now he gets a chance to use his pitches more. As a closer, it was more aggressiveness. Now he can show everything. ... As a starter, he can really really use his brains now."

Wilson had the AL's best ERA until Wednesday night, when Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes (5-0) pitched seven shutout innings against Detroit to lower his to 1.38.

With returning 17-game winner Scott Feldman and prized free-agent acquisition Rich Harden heading up the rotation, the Rangers went into spring training providing Wilson a chance to be a starter. But returning to the bullpen, where he has been a closer and more the primary setup guy, was still considered an option.

Wilson was too good as a starter in the spring to be left out of the rotation, plus the Rangers had already added veteran reliever Darren Oliver as a left-handed setup guy.

In his first regular-season start since 2005, Wilson (3-1) threw seven scoreless innings against Toronto on April 8. A bout with food poisoning delayed his next start, but then he tossed a six-inning complete game in a rain-shortened 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees, who scored two unearned runs.

Wilson then had 6 2-3 shutout innings at Boston and has allowed only four earned runs over 22 innings his past three starts. That included his first career nine-inning complete game victory Friday, 4-1 over Kansas City and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.

"I don't really feel like I'm pitching as great as everybody tells me I'm pitching," Wilson said. "There's still a lot for me to improve on, and also there is a longevity factor. It's like so what, six games. ... My job is to go out there and pitch well every single time, all season."

Fatigue and durability certainly haven't been an issue yet for the former reliever who was used to pitching in short spurts near or at the end of games, including 50 saves the past three seasons. He has averaged 107 pitches per game over 41 2-3 innings as a starter this year.

"It's just an A plus B equal C kind of thing. It's just linear," Wilson said. "I feel better. It's easier on my arm."

Wilson altered his entire offseason program preparing for the different demands of starting and the endurance needed to go deep into games.

Now that the season is under way, and he knows he is scheduled to start every fifth game — instead of pitching irregularly depending on game situations — the 29-year-old pitcher works harder in the weight room and runs farther between starts.

"The win, the quality start and the innings pitched are the big things because the knocks on me were that I wasn't going to be able to last seven innings, eight innings, whatever," he said. "For me, that's the satisfaction I get, is me knowing I could do it and having people saying I couldn't and telling them I could and then showing that I can."

Wilson, a fifth-round draft pick in 2001, was primarily a starter in the minor leagues and missed all of the 2004 season recovering from the ligament transplant surgery.

After being called up by the Rangers for the first time in 2005, when he had four stints with the team, Wilson was 0-5 with a 12.05 ERA in six starts. But in 18 appearances out of the bullpen his rookie season, he had a 2.73 ERA over 26 1-3 innings and Texas continued to utilize him as a reliever after that.

Now the only time Wilson is in the bullpen is to warm up before games.

"He's done a real good job of just staying focused for four days when he's not pitching," teammate Ian Kinsler said. "In the bullpen, it seemed like he had too much time on his hands. This year, it seems like he's really focused on that one start, going out there and staying in the game as long as he can."