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Angels' C.J. Wilson weathers elements, Twins in 5-1 win

Left-hander, who is not used to pitching in cold conditions, battles through seven sharp innings in 45-degree temperatures and 31-mph winds in Minneapolis.

April 09, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna

MINNEAPOLIS — C.J. Wilson wasn't in Texas anymore. That was evident Monday, not so much by the "Angels" written across his jersey but by the 45-degree temperatures and 31-mph wind gusts in Target Field, a stark contrast to the sauna-like conditions the former Rangers ace is accustomed to.

The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field it wasn't, but the weather was not at all conducive to the pinpoint control of a baseball, which can feel like a cue ball when it's so cold and dry. That explains the four walks Wilson issued, one more than he had in 241/3 innings in six spring starts.

Neither the elements nor control problems deterred the left-hander, who made his Angels debut a successful one by giving up one run and three hits in seven innings of a 5-1 victory in the Minnesota Twins' home opener.

Relying heavily on a sinking fastball, Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5-million deal in December, recorded 16 ground-ball outs and five strikeouts. The only ball hit into the air was Josh Willingham's fourth-inning home run.

"It's much different than pitching in Southern California and Texas," said Wilson, who led the American League with a 2.31 road earned-run average last season. "You can lick your fingers, blow on your hand, use more rosin, less rosin. It's not something I grew up with, and that's probably why I had control problems."

Wilson had plenty of other things going for him, including a two-run lead before he took the mound, some clutch hitting, stellar defense and some against-the-grain thinking by Manager Mike Scioscia.

The Angels led, 2-1, in the seventh inning when Bobby Abreu walked and Alberto Callaspo singled against starter Nick Blackburn, who retired 15 in a row from the first through sixth innings.

Up stepped Chris Iannetta in what seemed like a bunt situation, but the catcher got the green light and ripped a first-pitch double into the left-center field gap for two runs.

"In the back of my mind I thought the bunt was one scenario that could have played out," Iannetta said. "I think that's why I got a good pitch to hit. He threw me sinkers and cutters all game, but he left a four-seam fastball over the plate."

Iannetta took third base on Peter Bourjos' groundout and scored on a suicide squeeze by Erick Aybar, whose failure to get a bunt down in a similar situation cost the Angels a chance to beat the Boston Red Sox in a 2008 AL division series.

"You have to be ready for everything," Aybar said.

Aybar was Monday, contributing as much as a player can without a hit. The shortstop led off the game with a walk, and after Howie Kendrick flied out, Albert Pujols hit a potential double-play grounder to third base.

But Aybar took out second baseman Alexi Casilla with a hard slide to extend the inning for Kendrys Morales, who singled, Torii Hunter, who hit a run-scoring single, and Abreu, who sliced a run-scoring double to left field for a 2-0 lead.

Aybar ranged about 12 feet to the second base side of the bag for Justin Morneau's grounder in the first inning, turned a double play in the fifth, and got reliever Kevin Jepsen out of a two-on, none-out jam in the ninth with a diving catch of Ryan Doumit's liner up the middle and flip to Kendrick for a double play.

"That's why the guy is a Gold Glove shortstop," Kendrick said. "That was a spectacular play in the ninth. When he's not swinging it, he finds a way to get the job done."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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