Could anyone blame C.J. Wilson if he feels nervous? Right after a giant banner of the lefty starting pitcher was removed from the front entrance area of Angel Stadium, manager Mike Scioscia revealed he will likely start the season with a four-man rather than five-man rotation.
Alas, "the fifth man out" is probably not Wilson but Andrew Heaney, who was highly touted when he was received for new Dodger Howie Kendrick but stunk up Arizona this spring by giving up 19 earned runs in 19 innings, with four homers.
Scioscia did not reveal who the four starters will be, but they are probably Wilson, Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago. Relievers will likely make spot starts until Garrett Richards returns to the fifth slot. Richards has looked great this spring, but the Angels do not want to rush him.
Some at the Big A were ready to start printing World Series tickets on Dec. 8, 2011, when it was announced Albert Pujols had agreed to his record breaking 10-year, $250 million contract with the Angels and then, hours later, that Texas Rangers ace Wilson had agreed to a five-year, $75 million deal with the club.
Everyone was ready for a hometown boy does good story, as Wilson was born in Newport Beach and became a pitching star at Fountain Valley High School and Santa Ana College. Coming off 16 wins, seven losses and a 2.94 earned run average with the Rangers, Wilson went 13-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 2012, 17-7 and 3.39 in '13 and 13-10/4.51 last season–his worst overall since 2008.
At 34 and having thrown almost 1,300 big league innings, this could be the beginning of Wilson's pitching decline. He was pulled in the first inning of an Angels' loss to Kansas City in the American League playoffs last year.
He missed two turns in the Cactus League rotation due to illness and knee issues before struggling to allow two runs (on two home runs), three hits and four walks in 4.1 innings against the Giants on March 23. On Friday, he gave up nine hits and five runs (only one earned) in 4 1/3 innings of what would become a 7-2 split-squad loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
His banner came down from the front of Angel Stadium along with those of the departed Kendrick and soon-to-be-suspended Josh Hamilton. Richards, Erick Aybar and Huston Street have taken their place, while Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver are holdovers from last season.
"It's the big leagues," shrugged Wilson of his image being removed. "You lose 10 or 11 games, you're not going to be the face of a franchise."