Wilson benefits from midseason rest

Wilson benefits from midseason rest

CHICAGO -- When Tigers general manager Al Avila praised manager Brad Ausmus on Saturday for his work this season, his key example was bullpen management. It wasn't simply about managing veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez or the setup men Avila signed to help him, but guys like Alex Wilson, last year's do-everything reliever who has struggled for much of this season.

When Wilson hit 94 mph with his fastball on Friday while getting two key outs to protect a lead, Avila said, it was "probably as close as he came to how he was pitching last year. It was very encouraging to see."

When he followed that up with five outs and no baserunners Saturday night, erasing a fifth-inning jam in the process, that sense was only reinforced.

It's not just the Tigers feeling like Wilson is back to last year's form. It's Wilson, too.

"I would say, far and away, the best I've felt since before last year's All-Star break," Wilson said. "There's no real rhyme or reason to it. I'm on the same program. I think just got a little more rest right now. Just gotta keep it going."

Wilson earned his place in the Tigers bullpen in the first half of last season by taking the ball and getting outs whenever manager Brad Ausmus asked. Given the state of last year's bullpen, Ausmus asked Wilson a lot.

Wilson pitched in 46 1/3 innings before the All-Star break last year, everything from a three-inning spot start to extra-inning games. By August, he and lefty Blaine Hardy were the workhorses of the Tigers bullpen, doing everything from closing games to getting four outs at a time.

"I had a unique role last year," Wilson said. "I was doing one thing or another. I was doing it all -- long outings, short outings, three days in a row."

That work caught up to him down to the stretch, his arm feeling fatigued. When he struggled from the outset this year, it seemed like a hangover effect, exacerbated by a lat injury that cost him much of Spring Training and the first week of the regular season.

Clearly, Wilson needed a break. With the emergence of Shane Greene, he got it. Wilson pitched 11 1/3 innings over nine appearances from June 20 to July 19. He didn't pitch back-to-back days anywhere in that stretch, and he got a week's worth of rest around the All-Star break.

The results have been noticeable. Wilson has one run on 11 hits over 13 2/3 innings since June 20, walking three and striking out 10.

"I feel like I just played catch-up the while first half," he said. "And then the break really helped me a lot. I hadn't thrown a whole lot lately, and when I did, it was just really short outings. Yeah, I feel good."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.