The Angels’ World Series hopes may have received a significant boost Wednesday night with a dominant performance by enigmatic left-hander C.J. Wilson, who allowed one hit in seven shutout innings, striking out seven and walking three in a 5-0 victory over Seattle that clinched the American League West title.
Wilson, who improved to 13-9 with a 4.42 earned-run average, was extremely efficient through six innings, needing only 66 pitches to blank the Mariners.
His only trouble came in the seventh inning, when he walked two and threw 29 pitches, but Wilson got Justin Smoak to fly out to right field to end the inning and preserve a 0-0 tie.
“My curveball was really good tonight,” Wilson said. “I watched a little video of Clayton Kershaw on YouTube, trying to figure out a way to tighten up my curve.”
With Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs sidelined by season-ending injuries and Matt Shoemaker’s playoff status in question because of a left rib-cage strain he suffered Monday night, the Angels badly need Wilson to be a front-of-the-rotation force behind ace Jered Weaver.
That’s a task that Wilson, who often seems to pitch just well enough to keep opponents in the game, hasn’t been up to in a season marked by inefficiency and a lack of command.
Wilson went 1-2 with an 11.03 ERA in a six-start stretch from June 24 to Aug. 7, allowing 29 runs and 43 hits, striking out 21 and walking 14 in 23 2/3 innings.
Though he rebounded to go 4-1 with a 3.96 ERA in his next seven starts, Wilson needed 108 pitches to get through five innings against Houston on Friday night, and he was tagged for five runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of an 8-3 loss in Houston on Sept. 2. He had an AL-leading 75 walks before Wednesday’s game.
“There’s a lot of little parts that make up C.J.,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Even within his stuff, his consistency and his repertoire, the way he throws, there are some components that are working well and some things he’s trying to find.
“He’s got a ways to go to be where he was before, but there’s no doubt he’s better now than he was in some stretches throughout the season.”
Scioscia said Wilson does not need to “step up” in the playoffs. The Angels don’t need him to morph into Sandy Koufax. But for them to play deep into October, they need him to pitch effectively, consistently and, if possible, deep into games.
“It’s more magnified when there are so many guys in our rotation that are hurt,” Scioscia said. “There’s going to be a lot of focus on Jered and C.J. But it’s not so much that you have to pitch a shutout. Pitch your game, give us a chance to win. That’s what C.J. needs to do.”