C.J. Wilson back on the mound in San Bernardino


C.J. Wilson got back on the mound for the first time in 10 months Wednesday. “I still feel like I have a long way to go to be the pitcher I want to be,” Wilson said.  “But I’m out there pitching. Getting OK results here so I gotta just kinda Billy Madison my way through the system.”

Los Angeles Angels lefty C.J. Wilson is in the last year of his contract. He is making 20 million dollars this season and he has yet to throw one pitch.

Hopefully, that is one of the last times we’ll have to say that.

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C.J. Wilson took the mound with the Angels Single A affiliate the Inland Empire 66’ers tonight. Wilson struggled in the first inning throwing 23 pitches, 13 for strikes. Wilson allowed a couple doubles from the lead-off and the clean-up hitter for the Lake Elsinore Storm to take a 1-0 lead. He fought back from two 3-0 counts, and ended up striking out the side.

Wilson was clearly irritated with his command in the first but was able to laugh it off while walking into the dugout. “It was kind of crazy.” Wilson said after he was taken out. ” I pitched in a real game. It was the first time since July of last year. I didn’t really feel like I had overpowering anything tonight. My movement was really good and that’s why I got ground balls whenever I kind of wanted it.”

Second inning he looked much better. After a liner right back up the middle for a base hit, Lake Elsinore Storm second basemen grounded into a 5-6-3 double play and the next hitter, Jose Ruiz struck out looking on a late called third strike. C.J. got out of the inning on only nine pitches and had four strikeouts through 2.

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Apparently 9 pitches was too many for Wilson in the previous inning. He came back in the 3rd and only needed 8 to retire the Storm batters. Location was still a bit shaky but what can you expect from a guy who hasn’t thrown since spring training or thrown meaningful pitches since last July.

“He seemed to be able to throw the ball wherever he wanted to and was able to get outs,” said catcher Taylor Ward, one of the Angels top prospects who caught Wilson tonight. “It was freaking awesome to be able to catch him tonight and see how he approaches things.”

Despite going 0 for 3 at the plate, which dropped his season average to .231, Ward did a great job defensively catching Wilson, making a couple of nice stops on a few pitches in the dirt.  Ward also threw out two base runners after Wilson departed. His performance behind the plate impressed Wilson.

“He was obviously one of our top prospects and he did well tonight, had a great at-bat earlier tonight and threw that guy out to bail us out there in the 5th inning,” Wilson said. “He flashed some good tools behind the plate, He stuck a couple of really difficult pitches including a two-seamer I threw in the bottom of the zone and it came back across the plate. A lot of younger catchers have a tendency to track it too much with their hands and over catch it. He just trusted himself to stick it right where he needed to and it worked out well for us as we got the strike out.”

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Wilson said his main focus tonight was location. “Tonight I was just trying to throw as many strikes as I can and concentrate on accuracy,” Wilson said. “If dudes get hits, they get hits I don’t really care. I have to turn over a new leaf and turn into a strike thrower as I don’t really think reaching back and trying to throw 94 or 95 is in the tank right now. As the season goes on it may come back, but for now I need to continue pitch like a pitcher and not throw like a thrower.”

Wilson came out for the 5th inning but after two pitches to the first batter and giving up a single he was pulled. He left the game throwing 56 pitches, 35 strikes giving up one run on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks. When he left the game it was tied at 1 and the 66’ers would end up winning 3-1.

“Today, I don’t know maybe because it was cold or something else. I didn’t feel as coordinated with everything. I didn’t have that little bit extra on the ball,” said Wilson when asked about how his arm felt,”My main focus is getting physically ready to pitch in the big leagues again. If tonight was the big leagues 56 pitches in four plus innings is not a quality start. I need to get back where I can throw 100 (pitches) and bounce back. I have to do what I can to continue on the path I’m on to get body in shape and get my arm in shape and get more into it.”

Despite having pitched in over 400 major league games Wilson said he still felt nervous before his start tonight. “Emotionally it was kind of a butterfly situation at about 6 o’clock, but before that I was amped I was like let’s start this game I’m freaking ready. Then around 6 I was like ‘Oh my God the game is going to start’.  Once I got started out there I was fine and in between innings I was joking with the guys trying to keep it light.”

Wilson gave somewhat of an outline as to what his next week would look like. “Tomorrow, get a big workout in. Do some interval runs, get the legs going and take it easy on the arm. Probably the second or third day will be a bullpen of some sort and try to see how I recover.”

Another side note to the game was the return of Angels infielder Cliff Pennington. Pennington started his rehab assignment Wednesday attempting to come back from a hamstring injury. Pennington went 2 for 3 with a triple and also made some nice plays in the field behind Wilson.

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Overall, the night could be called a success for both Wilson and Pennington as well as Ward.

“It was cool having them out here. We’ve had a lot of guys out here rehabbing and it’s cool for the guys to be able play with real big leaguers.  Everyone who has come in here have been a real class act. They have been very willing to talk and teach and help some of our guys and that’s been awesome,” 66’ers manager Chad Tracy said. “I thought C.J. looked great for the first time throwing in a stadium in a while. In my humble I thought he looked pretty good. Cliff had a few good at-bats and looked good in the field. As for Taylor Ward his play tonight speaks for itself.  He caught a big league guy and caught him extremely well, then we brought a guy in after who was throwing knuckleballs and he didn’t drop a single ball and threw a couple of runners out as well.  He is a terrific defensive catcher and he is starting to come along with the bat. Taylor is just a good baseball player.”