SEATTLE -- Shortly after C.J. Wilson threw his 87th pitch of the game to end the fifth inning of the Rangers' 5-2 win over Seattle on Wednesday, pitching coach Mike Maddux marched over and asked the lefty how he was feeling.
"I'm finishing this game," Wilson said to him. "That's it. I'm going to finish it."
Wilson knew he better get more efficient if he was going to be able to stay on the mound for four more innings. And that's exactly what he did. Wilson retired the final 14 batters he faced. He ended up allowing two runs (one earned) with 12 strikeouts and one walk. He threw 38 pitches in the final four innings -- an average of 9.5 per inning -- to earn the fourth complete game of his career.
It came after his defense was shaky in the early going and the Mariners managed to bloop and bleed their way to a couple of runs.
"After the bloop hits, I told myself I was going to make them hit the ball hard instead of dinking the ball against me," Wilson said. "That was frustrating. The more I challenged them, the more it paid off."
Wilson was able to out-pitch impressive youngster Micheal Pineda, who struck out nine Rangers in seven innings but allowed the first two homers of his season. Pineda has given up 11 earned runs in six starts and the Rangers have seven of them. Mitch Moreland's blast -- and I mean a shot estimated at 435 feet -- gave Wilson a 3-2 lead and he made sure that was all he needed. He also kept a shaky bullpen from even entering the game.
"That was big," Michael Young said. "We needed it. That's a lot of pitches to throw, but C.J. takes care of himself. We know he's more than capable of having that kind of a workload. It was nice to get the 'pen a night off and have our starter keep the other team at bay. He got us back in the dugout quickly after we scored some runs, too."
Wilson is now 4-1 with a 2.92 ERA on the season. And he looks like an even better pitcher now than he did last season, when he won a team-high 15 games and made a smooth transition from the bullpen to the rotation. He credits that to a focus on not walking as many batters.
"I led the league in walks the whole year," Wilson said of 2010.
He finished with 93 walks, which led the American League. He had 170 strikeouts, making his strikeout-to-walk ratio 1.83, which was 38th in the AL. This season, he had a 2.89 mark (20th in the AL) headed into Wednesday. That got even better after Wilson tied a career-high with 12 strikeouts and had one walk.
"This year, my approach after watching some of the other guys around the league and Cliff [Lee] when he was with us, is that if you make the guys hit the ball early in the count, you're going to get ahead in the count and if you're ahead in the count, it's easier to pitch," Wilson said. "I'm trying to get to that 1-1 and 1-2 count."
Wilson noted that he had some outs in early counts Wednesday, enabling him to get through the full game despite such a high pitch count early. His defense, which let him down with two errors in the third inning contributing to an unearned run, also improved. Julio Borbon made a diving catch to end the seventh. Ian Kinsler snagged a liner to get a double play to end the fourth and prevent Ichiro Suzuki from batting with a runner in scoring position.
"I've been complaining all year that I haven't put it all together in one start," Wilson said. "Tonight, I had enough of the elements there. The cutter came back. I threw some good sinkers. The curve ball was working enough. Everything was working enough to get me quick through some counts and my fastball got me by a couple of guys in the zone."
Wilson stayed aggressive, made the Mariners swing the bats early in the counts and got efficient, quick outs. When Wilson made the transition to the rotation in 2010, one thing he focused on was reducing his pitch count. He ended up with 16.9 pitches per inning, an improvement over previous years. This season, he's now at 16.05 pitches per inning, nearly a full pitch less. Reducing the walks helps that stat as does forcing the opponent to swing early in the count.
Add it all up and you've got a left-hander who continues to mature. And his timing couldn't be better (is this a good time to mention he's a free agent at the end of 2011?).
"He's better now," Young said. "I think it's just experience. He has a good feel for starting. It's his second season doing this now. I'm sure he has a better feel for the hitters he's facing and how to pace himself through games. Without a doubt he's better this year. Experience is a great teacher and he's got a lot of it now."
Wilson was the stopper, as he put it, on Wednesday. His start ended a three-game skid for the Rangers, their longest losing streak of the season. He's now 2-1 this season in games after a Rangers' loss. Last year, he was 11-5 with a 3.27 ERA in 20 starts following a Texas loss. He seemed to come in and stop any bleeding. That's what he did on Wednesday, making sure the Rangers stayed in first place in the AL West, moving to 17-14.