PAWTUCKET â€” The Alex Wilson who posted a 10.80 ERA in four Grapefruit League outings is a distant memory.
In his place is a reliever who has been a rock solid contributor at the backend of Pawtucketâ€™s bullpen. Entering Tuesdayâ€™s game against Toledo, the right-hander has posted a microscopic 0.71 ERA in 12.1 innings. International League foes are hitting a paltry .143 against Wilson, who is averaging 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
The total represents a high-water mark at the minor-league level. Remember, Wilson began his pro career as a starter before undergoing a reclassification a month into the 2012 season.
The more distance Wilson puts between himself and the thumb surgery he underwent last fall, the more confidence he has in his ability to repeat his delivery over and over again.
â€śIn spring training, I was just coming back and trying to build arm strength and get used to the feel of the ball again,â€ť said Wilson, who has saved three games for Pawtucket. â€śOver time, the strength came. I think it was right after (getting re-assigned to minor-league camp) when things started to really click for me and took off from there.â€ť
There has been a noticeable jump in Wilsonâ€™s velocity during his strong Triple-A start. Asked to get a five-out save on Sunday, Wilson reportedly topped as high as 96 miles per hour with his fastball generally residing in the 94-mph range.
â€śWhat we saw the other day was power and explosive,â€ť said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. â€śHeâ€™s never had fear. You know what youâ€™re going to get. He has that bulldog mentality that everybody talks about, but no matter what inning heâ€™s pitching in, heâ€™s looking to execute on every pitch. Heâ€™s a guy you can throw in any situation and know heâ€™s going to compete. He has the stomach for the tough situations.â€ť
For comparisonâ€™s sake, fangraphs.com had Wilson maxing out at 91.8 mph when he threw his two-seam fastball during the course of his 28 games with the Red Sox in 2013.
â€śIâ€™ll throw it 93-94 mph and run it up to 95, 96. Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™ve always been until last year when I couldnâ€™t feel the ball,â€ť said Wilson. â€śRight now, everything is where I want it to be. Iâ€™m comfortable and everything is coming out well. Iâ€™m able to spin the ball because Iâ€™m able to hold it.
â€śThereâ€™s no regards to whether my thumb feels this way or that,â€ť Wilson continued. â€śLast year was tough. I grinded it out and pitched hurt for most of the season. Now Iâ€™m healthy and ready to go.â€ť
Said Boles, â€śWhen heâ€™s right, itâ€™s pretty impressive with that fastball/slider mix. Heâ€™s always had a quality arm.â€ť
The skipper has also noticed a much calmer Wilson on the mound.
â€śSeeing in him in Class A ball to where he is now, he was really excited when he started out,â€ť said Boles. â€śNow when he misses with a pitch, he will go to the back of the mound, take a deep breath and slow things down. I think thatâ€™s the biggest key for him, to slow things down.â€ť
While Wilson never completely disappeared from the scene, his string of stellar outings has to comfort Boston management at a time when Edward Mujicaâ€™s health has to be a topic of concern. Wilson has already spent one day on Bostonâ€™s roster this season â€“ he was at Fenway Park the night Michael Pineda was ejected.
â€śPitching well never hurts,â€ť Wilson smiled. â€śIâ€™m just trying to stay in stride here and hopefully I get an opportunity sooner rather than later.â€ť
Added Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur, â€śI just hope he keeps it up. His command is very good and Iâ€™m happy with what heâ€™s doing.â€ť
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03