Detroit Tigers: Is Alex Wilson’s Shoulder a Cause for Concern?

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Feb 19, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Alex Wilson (30) prepares to pitch during practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Alex Wilson (30) prepares to pitch during practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /
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As the Detroit Tigers rotate through pitcher after pitcher, one has been noticeably absent: Alex Wilson.

Aug 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Alex Wilson against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Alex Wilson against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course two other important Detroit Tigers pitchers, Anibal Sanchez and Fernando Rodriguez also have yet to pitch in a game, but this is expected. Sanchez has been battling triceps discomfort, but Rodriguez hasn’t pitched because he has his own unique methods of training. Wilson, who could be fighting for a middle-reliever spot in the bullpen, has a shoulder injury that is preventing him from participating in baseball activities.

With his blue-collar work ethic, the 29-year-old Wilson quickly became a fan favorite and a go-to reliever for Brad Ausmus. In 2015, Wilson started in 1 game, finished 16 games, and pitched in every inning in between – even the bonus innings throughout the season. He became the Justin Verlander-like workhorse of the bullpen, but without the durability of the Tigers’ ace.

Unfortunately, the bullpen workhorse may have gotten a little over-worked. As a relief pitcher with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 and 2014, Wilson pitched in a total of 56 innings. But, with the Tigers in 2015, he pitched in 70 innings, facing 40 additional batters, too. Add to this the 20 batters he faced with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. All of this work has taken a toll on his arm. According to Jason Beck with MLB, “Wilson has spent the offseason rebuilding his tired arm from a fitness standpoint.”

Wilson started complaining of shoulder soreness on February 29. At the end of the 2015 season, Wilson’s bicep tendon was sore. This new issue is in the back of the shoulder. According to Ausmus, Wilson was told to rest for a few days before resuming any pitching. 

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A week later, Wilson’s shoulder is still bothering him. George Sipple with the Detroit Free Press reported that Wilson’s shoulder pain is not related to the bicep tendon soreness from 2015. He reported that Ausmus said: “It’s a little concerning, although it’s in a different area (than where) the shoulder bothered him at the end of last year.”

Despite the fact that Wilson has been ordered to rest, he wanted to participate in baseball drills. Ausmus told Sipple: “When I told him he wasn’t going to throw for a few days, he wanted to continue to take part in drills. I guess, in that sense, he’s antsy.”

Wilson defines the Detroit spirit of perseverance to succeed despite hardships.  He stepped in to pitch any time that he was needed, which was too frequently. With the lack of support in the pen, Wilson was one of the only consistent arms that Ausmus could rely on. Fortunately, Ausmus and the other decision makers recognize Wilson’s importance to the team. Of the shoulder injury, Ausmus said: “We’d rather it be gone and start from square one, as long as he’s healthy.”

In 2015, Wilson pitched a reliable 2.19 ERA with a 1.029 WHIP. He pitched more innings than any other relief pitchers (Blaine Hardy and Al Alburquerque pitched in more games) in 2015. His ERA was the second lowest on the team – Drew VerHagen had a 2.05 in 26 innings.

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While his role has yet to be defined in 2016, it is likely that he will be a middle reliever or a long reliever. Hopefully, Wilson will be back to throwing soon – but not until he fully healed.

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