Wilson looking to walk tall with Halos
Lefty is another ace arm in loaded pitching rotation
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Four aces. Now there's a hand that sounds fairly unbeatable at any table.
Holding Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and C.J. Wilson, even Angels manager Mike Scioscia -- a pragmatist disinclined to look beyond today -- has to feel pretty secure about things heading into a season brimming with expectations.
Continuing to do everything right, and with flair, Wilson lasted 6 1/3 innings on Friday, holding the Diamondbacks to five hits and two runs while striking out seven and walking one in a 9-2 triumph at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Wilson, the $77.5 million free agent import from Texas, is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in five Cactus League outings.
It's easy to make friends with performances like that.
Wilson, who started alongside Cliff Lee with the Rangers' 2010 American League West championship team before replacing Lee as the ace last season, knows quality when he sees it.
"It's even more impressive up close to see those guys," he said, referring to Weaver, Haren and Santana. "Everyone feels the responsibility to pitch well every night. We're all hyper competitive. That's why we all end up in this locker room."
As to where he fits in with the other aces, Wilson, as the new guy, is properly deferential.
"I feel everyone here is in their prime and has a chance to move forward," Wilson said. "Dan threw [238 1/3] innings [in 2011]. Jered had the second best ERA in the American League. Ervin threw a no-hitter. I'm just the lefty, trying to get on their level."
An All-Star last year, Wilson has focused on bringing down his walks -- he led the AL in 2010 with 93 and issued 74 last year -- and has been successful.
"To go all spring walking only three dudes [in 20 2/3 innings] is pretty good," said Wilson, who has notched 16 strikeouts.
Getting close to optimum performance level for his regular season debut, Wilson struck out two D-backs in a perfect first inning, fooling Justin Upton on an offspeed delivery after unleashing a 2-1 fastball over catcher Chris Iannetta's head.
Miguel Montero made it three strikeout victims in four batters before Chris Young lashed a double to left. Jason Kubel went down swinging before Paul Goldschmidt wedged a sharp grounder between third baseman Alberto Callaspo and the bag for an RBI double.
As the Angels were pounding Arizona's Josh Collmenter, the D-backs got a run in the fifth on Ryan Roberts' solo homer -- a "cut changeup," Wilson called it. They'd threatened in the fourth with a pair of singles with none out, but Wilson retired Chris Young and Howie Kendrick's leaping stab at second produced a double play on Kubel's line drive.
Few players in the game have enjoyed a better spring than Kendrick. The chiseled athlete has put all of the dimensions -- offense, defense, speed -- of his formidable game on display in the afterglow of his first All-Star Game appearance last July in Phoenix.
Following Erick Aybar's leadoff triple to the wall in right center against Collmenter, Kendrick went even deeper, crushing his fourth Cactus League homer to center.
This temporarily tied Kendrick with Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo for the club lead. Pujols separated himself with No. 5, a fourth-inning solo rocket to left-center.
Pujols' single and Torii Hunter's double gave the Angels a team cycle in their first five hitters. They had four runs when Bobby Abreu showed signs of life with a clean two-run single through the middle.
It has been a fitful spring for Abreu, who was 4-for-46 entering the game. He expressed his desire for a new home while struggling to find the smooth, efficient stroke and timing that made him one of the game's premier hitters before his power deserted him last season.
A rumored swap with the Indians reportedly having fallen through, Abreu is left to sort things out. The best idea, easier advised than carried out, is to control what you can, maintaining focus on the work at hand.
Scioscia said Abreu found something in his hitting foundation on Thursday. With a balanced approach, he looked closer to the real Abreu than anything we've seen this spring.
His second at-bat in the third inning was as impressive as the first. Abreu slashed a two-strike single to left center following Hunter's two-out single.
This Abreu, the Abreu of old, can be of value to the Angels. Unexpected things happen over the course of a season. A slugger gets drilled or tears a ligament. Another goes into an inexplicable swoon. As difficult as it is for Abreu to accept, this could turn out to be the best place for him -- staying sharp, waiting in the wings.
Like fellow veterans Hunter and Vernon Wells, Abreu yearns for a World Series championship to attach to his resume. He has achieved beyond his wildest dreams individually. The Angels realistically offer a better shot at the brass ring for Abreu -- even in a diminished role -- than two-thirds of the other clubs.
Winning might not be everything, but it's certainly highly placed on any athlete's set of priorities.
Certainly Wilson, having come so achingly close to a championship last fall with Texas, can attest to that.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.