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Angelic Interviews: A Conversation with C.J. Wilson

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Earlier this afternoon, I was given the opportunity to speak with Los Angeles Angels starter and 10 year Major League veteran C.J. Wilson, courtesy of Head and Shoulders in conjunction with Season of the #Whiff program, which is helping to revitalize baseball in the inner city. Mr. Wilson was kind enough to answer a few questions about his career, the Angels and the initiative sponsored by Head and Shoulders for us here at Halo Hangout.

Halo Hangout: What has been the biggest difference between the Angels of last year and this season?

C.J. Wilson: Last year, we had all the intentions of performing like this, but we didn’t have the timing. We weren’t healthy or we didn’t have the timing. Either Jason Vargas, Jered Weaver or myself would have a nice run of starts, but we weren’t consistent. That’s been the difference. We’ve been more consistent, healthier and have had a lot better relief pitching. We had a lot of success with the trades and free agent pickups. Of course, getting Albert Pujols back healthy and having Mike Trout do Superman things from the second spot in the lineup helps a lot as well.

HH: Originally with the Texas Rangers, you had been used as a reliever before becoming a closer. Then , after the 2009 season, you transitioned to being a starter. What was it like making that transition?

CW: The biggest difference is the toll it takes on your body. As a reliever, your arm gets more more beat up, while your body gets beat up starting. The volume of pitches thrown changes your training. That volume means more cardio work instead of strengthening the arm. It’s a big difference pitching every five days.

It also changes your mentality. Instead of rearing back and firing the ball, you have to train yourself not to throw as hard all the time. You have to become crafty, changing speeds instead of just rearing back.

HH: Since transitioning into a starter, you have been remarkably durable, as you are on pace to start thirty or more games for the fifth time since becoming a starter. What is the key to that durability?

CW: Well, this year I haven’t been pitching at 100%. The biggest thing is to get out there and pitch regardless. Aside from a catcher, who is taking foul tips and having all that wear on their knees and hips, being a pitcher may be the second most demanding position. There is a lot of mental and psychical stress throwing 100 or more pitches.

For me, my adaptability is the biggest reason. I’m not as psychically gifted as some other players who can just throw 100 MPH. It’s about craftiness, desire and dedication. I’m diligent in my conditioning programs. How often do you hear of someone that isn’t working hard, then they end up on the DL with a tired shoulder or a sore arm?

HH: You had undergone Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2004 season. What are your thoughts in regards to the recent spate of surgeries recently?

CW: There are a lot of kids throwing harder from a younger age. They are getting a lot more innings on their arms, and there is a lot of specialization. If a kid has promise as a pitcher, they focus on that instead of playing everywhere else. I know I did a lot of everything growing up, even playing catcher for a year when I was 13.

Those pitchers that are having the surgery a second time, it may come down to their rehab and the teams pushing them too quickly. They get overworked to try to come back. I got lucky in that I had mine in August of 2003, so I had 18 months without being pushed, allowing my arm to heal.

The key is to try to avoid the second surgery and keep the elbow healthy. A lot of teams are pushing to have these guy pitch to win, not build up innings. It has a lot to do with the length of the comeback and getting the extra time.

It’s a very traumatizing surgery. They drill into the bone, putting holes in the ulna and humerus bones. The tendon is then woven in, making a figure eight. They move the ulnar nerve to prevent pain while it heals. During recovery, you can’t rotate your hand or arm. For instance, touching your stomach with that hand is not allowed, because it’s too much strain.

HH: Back on April 7th, you threw a knuckleball to Jesus Guzman in the seventh inning. You have mentioned throwing it occasionally warming up, or in bullpen sessions. Is this a pitch you plan on using occasionally in the future?

CW: Nah, but I wish my fingernails were strong enough to. I did get Brandon Guyer on a groundout to third on a knuckler, but I wouldn’t throw it unless I was in the zone and we have a huge lead where a home run won’t hurt. It’s just not good enough, but if everything is working, I may try it. It’s more of a gag and something funny to me when I’m out there on the mound.

HH: Over the past month, since you came back from your ankle injury, you have had a solid run of starts. What has been the difference?

CW: I’m constantly staying on my mechanics. When I injured my ankle, I had to make an adjustment, and now I’m using my legs right and pitching normally. I’m going out there and pitching as I had been over the past couple of years. Also, I’ve been figuring out how to get ahead in the count, throwing 65 to 70% first pitch strikes. That’s making the hitter put a defensive swing on the ball, instead of being able to muscle up and be aggressive at the plate.

HH: This interview was made possible by Head and Shoulders and the Season of the #Whiff program. How did you get involved in the campaign, and can you give us an overview of the program for those that are not familiar with it?

CW: Well, I can thank my parents, since my hair helped get me involved.

The way the program works is that $1.00 is donated for every strikeout any time someone uses #whiff in a tweet at their favorite team. As strikeouts increase, so have the donations. Every month, the totals for each #whiff are tallied per team, and the top seven teams get contributions to help out.

The program is about getting into the inner city and getting fields and equipment for kids that can’t afford it. It’s about giving an opportunity. In fact, some of the kids that came through that program are in the majors right now.

It’s another part of why Major League Baseball is what is right in sports. We’re giving back and trying to build up opportunities for the younger kids that may not have had them otherwise.

HH: Finally, how else could the fans get involved?

CW: It’s a national program. From California to Florida, there are fields and equipment that have been paid for by the program. Aside from tweeting #whiff at your favorite team, there are other ways to get involved. You can go to the site and apply to be a coach or a volunteer. You can donate directly through the website. We run different clinics and academies throughout the year as well.

Our tanks to C.J. Wilson and the people at Head and Shoulders for making this interview possible.

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