Alex Wilson adjusting to new bullpen role

Alex Wilson is one of Boston's best starting pitching prospects. That's why a shift to the bullpen came as a surprise.

Wilson -'s Kelly O'Connor

Maybe it wasn’t the equivalent of getting buzzed by a 95-plus fastball, but Pawtucket Red Sox pitcher Alex Wilson was startled when Boston made the decision to convert him from a starter to a reliever.

“Actually, I didn’t have an idea,” Wilson said of Boston’s decision. “Two weeks before spring training ended, I sat down with (general manager) Ben Cherington and (manager) Bobby Valentine and the whole staff. I was told ‘You’re going to be a starter this year.’

“I was – for three starts. When I got the news that I was going to make that transition, I was very surprised.”

And rightfully so considering in three-plus minor league seasons, Wilson had made 68 career starts. But PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur surmised why Boston opted to shift the right-hander to the bullpen.

“The reason why it was done like this possibly was it was the way he was going to get to the big leagues at this moment,” said Sauveur. “They said ‘Let’s see what he can do.’ That was the only reason. It’s not that he was throwing badly. He can start. He can relieve. But right now, it’s all about helping the Boston Red Sox win and they wanted to take a look at him out of the bullpen.”

And as the saying goes, so far so good.

In his first nine relief appearances, Wilson was 2-0 over 14 2/3 innings. He allowed 15 hits, walked six, struck out 16 and posted a 3.06 ERA.

“It’s one of those things where your whole mindset changes,” said Wilson. “You have to be ready to pitch every day. When you have four days off, mentally you’re not even in the zone sometimes. It’s definitely different. You have to be locked in every day.

“For me, that’s the biggest part. I don’t have a problem getting loose quickly or anything like that. Since I had (Tommy John) surgery (in 2007) I’ve had zero arm problems. Everything feels great. That part of the transition is very easy for me. The hardest part has been the mental side of it – preparing and being in a different routine,” continued Wilson.

“For me, that was the most difficult thing. But now that I’ve had a few outings out of the pen, it’s coming back very quickly.”

When Wilson refers to “coming back” it means he’s turning the clock back to his senior year at Texas A&M where he did pitch some innings in relief.

“Growing up, I always was a position player as most guys are,” said Wilson. “I went to college as a two-way guy and ended up predominantly pitching. But for me, I want to be on the field every day that I can. I just love the competition and love being involved in the game.

“Anything I can do to help out the team, that’s what I want to be a part of.”

One reason Wilson may be successful as a reliever is it doesn’t take him 50-odd pitches to get ready while he’s warming up.

“He’s been able to get ready very, very fast – faster than a lot of guys,” said Sauveur. “He already knows about how long it takes him to get ready. He did that in college which wasn’t that long ago. That’s a plus. I put in the reports that he can get ready in a hurry. That’s always going to be a plus for him.”

In recent years, Wilson’s career has been a series of plusses:

  • He was named Boston’s 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the year after leading all of Boston’s full-season minor league pitchers with a 3.11 ERA in a combined 25 starts between Portland (21) and Pawtucket (four).
  • After he was promoted last year to Pawtucket on August 16, he later was voted Portland’s Pitcher of the Year plus an Eastern League All-Star.
  • Wilson was rated as Boston’s No. 11 prospect by Baseball America and its No. 14 prospect by Diehard.
  • Baseball America rates him as having the best fastball (93-to-96) and the best slider (82-to-85) in Boston’s farm systems.

“I’ve always been a fastball-slider guy,” said Wilson. “That’s been my bread and butter since I was 16 years old so being in the pen plays very well into my repertoire.

“I’m very comfortable starting. But I’m almost to the point where I’m extremely comfortable coming out of the pen. I think I can do both at the next level. It’s just trying to battle my way to get that chance. We’ll see how it goes this year.”

The fact Wilson has more than two pitches is one reason why Sauveur feels he can fill more than one role.

“With four pitches, he’s going to be able to start,” said Sauveur. “As a reliever, having that fourth pitch (a curveball) is going to be a bonus. But I like what I see of him coming out of the pen.”

What Wilson considers his third pitch also factors into his being a versatile pitcher.

“I have a third pitch, a changeup, which I’m not afraid to throw at any time,” he said. “It allows me to eat some innings. I think I can be a vital aspect for any team – whether it’s here or in Boston, eating innings, starting or relieving.”

Arguably the next question is if Wilson remains in the bullpen, might he remain a multi-innings reliever or might he eventually morph into a closer?

“I think I could fit very well into either role,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where, right now, I’m going to do whatever I can to get myself to the next level.As the years go on, I definitely can see myself being pushed farther and farther back into the later innings. I do throw pretty hard. I have two main pitches that are classified as power stuff and I think that plays well into the end of games.”

Sauveur expressed the opinion that Wilson has the qualities to be not only a middle reliever but also a closer.

“I said to somebody recently that I saw (the since-traded) Michael Bowden as a starter and as a reliever,” said Sauveur. “To me, all along I thought he was a reliever. He wanted the ball every day.

“I think Alex has the same attitude but there’s something more there. I think he also could start in the big leagues. But he has the attitude of ‘Just go get ‘em.’ In don’t think he’s going to have any problems whatsoever in either part of the game.

“Does he have the attitude to close?” queried Sauveur. “Most definitely. Can he be a setup guy? Most definitely. Can he be a long man? Most definitely. Can he start? He’s done that. It’s just a matter of time before you can read what kind of role he’ll have.”

Categories: Alex Wilson

Sports editor at The Warwick (RI) Beacon from 1973-78. Sports writer at The Times (Pawtucket, RI) from 1978-1999. At The Times, I was the beat writer for the Pawtucket Red Sox and Providence College basketball. Retired from The Times in the fall of 1999. Have covered the Pawtucket Red Sox in one capacity or another since 1976. One of only two sports writers who covered The Longest Game (the 33-inning game between the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket in 1981). Member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame (Words Unlimited is a Rhode Island organization of sports writers, sports casters and sports publicists). Blogs in-season with a first-hand look at the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

One Response to “Alex Wilson adjusting to new bullpen role” Subscribe

  1. Gerry June 5, 2012 at 2:08 AM #

    It's ironic that we may NEED a SP right now and both Wilson and Tazawa have been converted to the Pen, where they wait, it seems, behind Bailey, Melancon, Mortensen. Yet, with starters like Renaudo, PImental, Barnes and others moving forward, the Rotation will also be logjammed. Nice problem, but not for the kids.