MESA, Ariz. – For all the talk about the Chicago Cubs' new-look bullpen, the biggest key to its success might be the return of Justin Wilson.
Not the Justin Wilson who struggled the last couple months of last season. The one who pitched for the Detroit Tigers.
If Wilson finds his form, he would give manager Joe Maddon another left-handed option for high-leverage situations. If Wilson struggles again, Maddon would have to employ him very carefully.
“It just permits us to dole out the work in a way that we should not get anybody overtly tired, so that's what I look at,” Maddon said Monday. “But I mean, listen, you've seen good, I've heard good, you know, work-wise and the stuff that he's been doing. They're reporting back, he did something today that the guys are just raving about, so let's see how it plays out.”
Wilson, 30, has made two appearances this spring training, tossing a scoreless inning against Oakland and Cincinnati with two strikeouts total. He also sounds optimistic coming off the disappointing finish to last year.
“I'm very excited,” Wilson said. “I'm just excited to get going. Played well so far. Good vibe around here.”
Wilson began last season with Detroit and was widely regarded as the top reliever on the trade market after he posted a 2.68 ERA with 13 saves in 42 games with the lowly Tigers. He also had 55 strikeouts and 16 walks in 401/3 innings.
With the Cubs, Wilson showed glimpses of his potential down the stretch, but they were usually followed by some shaky outings. He had a 5.09 ERA in 23 games with the Cubs with 25 strikeouts and 19 walks in 172/3 innings.
“Just want to feel and do what I did before I came over,” Wilson said.
Cubs ace Jon Lester is working with new third base coach Brian Butterfield on bouncing his throw to the bases when he has to make a play on defense. He got a chance to use the technique during Sunday's 2-0 loss to Arizona in spring training, and the ball skipped past minor league first baseman Efren Navarro for an error.
“It's just a different thing for him,” Butterfield said.
Lester and Butterfield have been working on the bounce throw on the backfields of Chicago's spring training complex. They also tinkered with the concept while the two were in Boston.