Wilson strengthens bid for rotation

Wilson strengthens bid for rotation

MESA, Ariz. -- Here is your daily scoreboard update on the Rangers' starting pitching after a 4-1 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday:

Neftali Feliz: better.

C.J. Wilson: outstanding.

Or, as pitching coach Mike Maddux said of Wilson's work this spring: "His performance has been at the top of the list."

Wilson still may not win a spot in the Rangers' starting rotation. That call has not been made. Matt Harrison and others are also pitching well.

But if Wilson keeps pitching like this and still isn't worthy of being one of five starters, then the Rangers may have their best rotation ever.

"Texas threw some pretty good arms out there," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who saw only a couple of the half-dozen arms or so competing for the fifth spot in the rotation.

That group also includes Brandon McCarthy and Derek Holland, but Wilson is still mounting a serious challenge to make the jump from the bullpen to the rotation. That is no longer idle speculation or wishful thinking on some people's part.

"He was outstanding," Rangers manager Ron Washington said on Tuesday. "He went out there and attacked the zone with a good changeup and a good breaking ball. He even threw a couple of cut fastballs that I didn't know he had. He's getting awfully comfortable.

"I am impressed with what he's doing in the starting mode. We knew he was capable of getting outs. It was just a matter of adjusting to multiple innings. But he's done an outstanding job. He has just been on the attack."

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Wilson, the third of three Rangers pitchers used on the afternoon, went four innings and allowed one run on three hits. He struck out five and did not walk a batter while throwing an economical 47 pitches in four innings. All five strikeouts came on called third strikes.

"Just locating well," Wilson said. "Those are location strikeouts. Location is the art of pitching. It's not about having a lot of stuff and throwing it as hard as I can. It's about location and being efficient."

He also demonstrated some fortitude in his last inning of work. A leadoff single by Tyler Colvin and a double by Xavier Nady gave the Cubs runners on second and third with no outs in the bottom of the eighth. Down, 4-1, the Rangers moved the infield in to keep the Cubs from scoring.

Wilson did exactly that by getting three left-handed hitters to hit ground balls right at his infielders.

"I just got mad, to be honest, and told myself they are not going to score," Wilson said. "I knew my sinkers with lefties could eat them up if I put the pitch where I wanted."

He did that. He has done just about everything that he has wanted to do and what the Rangers asked him to do this spring. In nine innings, he has allowed six hits, walked one and struck out eight. But he is not there yet.

"We still have some others," Washington said. "Harrison is throwing well, McCarthy is throwing well, Holland had a great outing in his last time out. We're going to have a tough decision to make."

Feliz is the underdog in the competition, but he started on Tuesday and allowed three runs on six hits in three innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out four.

"Feliz was better," Washington said. "At least he attacked the zone. You have to give their hitters some credit, but at least he threw the ball over the plate and was attacking."

The biggest improvement was his curveball and changeup. Feliz has struggled with both in camp, but they were helping him out on Tuesday.

"His last game he was a one-pitch guy," Maddux said.

"I've been working on those pitches," Feliz said. "The main thing is being confident when I throw them. I think I can throw them for strikes. I haven't been throwing the way I think I'm capable of throwing. But I'm trying to work hard to stay with the team and help them any way I can."

Feliz may be too far behind to win a job in the rotation. He may have to settle for improving his stature in the bullpen. But the rotation competition is far from over. Wilson and Feliz will pitch again together on Monday against the Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz.

At this point though, the Rangers at least have the luxury of choosing in a position of strength rather than in past years when the fifth starter spot often came down to the lesser of two evils.

Asked if Wilson was making this a tough decision, Maddux said, "He's making it a great call."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.