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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Is Brian Wilson losing it? His fastball, I mean

Part of me hopes that the National League All-Star team builds such a large lead or gets so far behind the A.L. that Brian Wilson won't have to close the mid-season classic.

I'd rather keep the meltdowns -- on and off the field -- in the family.

More disconcerting than than his attack on the water cooler last week was his inability to put Scott "Giant Killer" Hairston away in the ninth inning in the Giants' 5-2 loss Friday night to the Mets.

Wilson had gone ahead of Hairston, one ball and two strikes, on a 93 MPH fastball and a 94 MPH two seamer that caught the edge of the plate. He then began to toy with Hairston, fiddle around with him -- the kind of action of a guy who's not all that confident in his stuff. Hairston fouled off another and took two out of the strike zone to run the count full.

In years past, Wilson would have reared back and blown a 97 MPH fastball by Hairston. He'd only given up a pair of singles to Hairston in seven at bats, and struck him out three times. But Wilson hasn't touched 97, much less 96 or 95 much lately.

He's gotten by on guile mostly this year, having developed a pretty varied and exotic repertoire. He mastered the cut fastball last year. And Wilson added a two-seam fastball this year, the kind that tails back in to a right hander, and can be used as a back-door pitch, or as a sinker in on the hands.

The problem is when it tails right back into the middle of the plate, which is what his two-seamer did on the payoff pitch to Hairston, who launched it into the black sky for what proved to be the game-winning home run.

I'm not sure if he's added the extra pitches out of necessity or if tinkering around with shiny new toys is Wilson's thing. But one thing is clear: he is not the dominant closer he was just a year ago. He cannot come into the game and blow hitters away anymore. His stuff is really no more dazzling or difficult than Ramon Ramirez'. Hell, Guilllermo Mota gets it up there as fast as Wilson these days.

It may be that Wilson is tired. He was in his third straight game. But, he'd done fine in four straight games last month, from June 22-25, with three saves. But that might have caught up with him. It was five days later that he gave up the game-winning home run to Aramis Ramirez -- the first home run he'd given up on the year after 37 appearances.

Now, he's given up two home runs -- both game-winners -- in the last five games. Last year, he gave up a total of three home runs.

In this five-game, five-inning stretch that dates back to the June 30 blown save to the Cubs, he has yielded nine hits, five runs, four if which were earned, two home runs, one walk and four strikeouts. He's had two blown saves, one loss and one save in that five-game stretch (and one win, but that was only because the Giants came back to win after he'd blown it).

He would have had another loss Wednesday night, if not for Pablo Sandoval's spectacular diving play to end the ninth on a bullet shot down the third base line with runners at first and third in a 5-5 tie.

Wilson's ERA has risen from 2.43 to 3.00 -- not exactly the numbers you want to parade around to the nation juxtaposed against images of belting a water cooler with a bat, fierce beard or not.

It's a worse stretch than he had all last year.

The worst I could find from 2010 was that he gave up three earned runs in three innings in a three-game stretch in May, and three earned runs in two innings in a two-game stretch in late July.

Speculation is mounting that Wilson might be hiding an injury -- remember, he was sidelined with an oblique out of spring training. But, the bottom line is that the fastball has lost its zip, hitters are getting better swings off him, and his bearded tirades might start growing old fast if he doesn't get back to more consistently solid outings.

Beat writers expressed disappointment that Wilson didn't man up and confess to his wayward ways. It's understandable. Wilson may say things that he would regret later. Better to cool off. Too bad he can't take the entire All-Star break off to rejuvenate for the second half.

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