12/01/2009 11:23 AM ET
C.J. Wilson: Advice from a legend
Rangers reliever looked to Ryan in early-season slump
In the beginning of the 2009 season, I hit a stretch where I wasn't getting the results I wanted. I thought I was making pretty good pitches, but they kept putting up runs on me.
So I decided to talk to our club's president, Nolan Ryan, who obviously is a fountain of expertise. He was my first choice when thinking of whom I could talk to. He's probably seen other guys go through this and maybe gone through it himself. I went up to talk to him to get his perspective on the situation, and he really simplified things and talked about his views.
Everybody in my generation looked up to Nolan Ryan, so I think you really have to listen when he speaks. He pitched for so long that he's probably seen everything in the game. He can relate to a lot of pitching scenarios and can relate to most of them more than people think. He was really helpful. He gave me a bit of direction in terms of how to objectively look at my results.
In some sense, it's a little intimidating knocking on the door of a Hall of Famer. I think Nolan is a very reserved guy, and that tends to intimidate some people. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. He's really observant. I think that's something that we have in common. I really like that about him. He picks his spots and talks when he has something to say.
He also doesn't try to draw attention to himself in terms of his past accomplishments. I truly respect that. I really wanted to talk to him. I was so determined to talk to him that it erased any intimidation for me. I was really surprised about how down-to-earth he is when I first met him.
We as pitchers were all upset about how we performed in 2008, and everyone went home and came back this season with extra motivation to do well. Our pitchers stepped up this year.
Nolan was a big part of that, too. He handed down a number of edicts that gave everyone a sense of purpose and direction. He made sure everyone knew that he had to come to camp in better shape. Most guys take it upon themselves to stay in great shape, but others will just do the minimum. Nolan expects everyone to give everything they have and leave it out on the field. It was clear that those who didn't want to comply were going to be weeded out.
It gave our strength and conditioning coordinator, Jose Vazquez, a firmer hand to rule with. He has standards that have to be met. Simply put: no more excuses.
Having Mike Maddux here as pitching coach has been a big help. Nolan and Mike go back to Round Rock, Texas, in 2002. Mike was my pitching coach in the Minors. He's very "youthy," if that makes sense. He has a very youthful personality. He gets along well with everyone. I don't think he intimidates guys, so they feel comfortable going to him with any problems.
Credit goes to Andy Hawkins, our bullpen coach, too. He's been with a lot of us since the Minors. He was my first pitching coaching when I came out of college.
Pitching in the Major Leagues is a team effort, of course, but it really helps when you have great leaders.
Overall, I think everybody deserves a lot of credit.
C.J. Wilson returned to top form in 2009 with a 2.81 ERA, a 5-6 record and 14 saves is 18 opportunities. He also pitched in a career-high 74 games and limited opposing hitters to a .234 batting average.