Brian Wilson has no regrets about how many times he pitched during the San Francisco Giants’ improbable 2010 World Series title run. Nor about how he handled his rehabilitation program this winter, and certainly not how he stayed on the mound at Colorado last week despite ligament damage in his arm.
”Absolutely not,” Wilson said. ”That’s how I play baseball. Push it to the limits.”
Wilson has now reached his limit.
San Francisco’s bearded and boisterous closer said before Sunday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates that he will probably have elbow-reconstruction surgery, ending his season after only 56 pitches, two appearances and one save. He was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list, clearing space for Ryan Vogelsong to come off the DL against Pittsburgh.
An MRI showed the structural damage. Wilson plans to seek at least one other opinion and probably two, including from the renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who performs Tommy John elbow-reconstruction surgeries. Rehab time is typically a year to 18 months.
The news hands a big blow to a Giants team that has lost a major clubhouse fixture for the second straight season and has hopes of recapturing the magic from the city’s historic championship two years ago.
”My spirits aren’t down,” Wilson said. ”I know a lot of people are sad. I know Giants fans are probably going to look at this as like a huge loss. But we have the best bullpen in the league. I’ve been honored to play with those guys, teach them some things, and they’ve taught me some things, and they’re going to fill in my role as best they can.
”I don’t think they’re going to falter. I think we’re going to take the West no matter what.”
The Bearded One’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the bullpen.
The 30-year-old Wilson, a three-time All-Star, led the majors with 48 saves in 2010. He finished 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 36 saves in 57 appearances last season, held out down the stretch as a precaution.
Wilson said during spring training all seemed right with his elbow. And all did seem fine until he threw 32 pitches at Colorado on Thursday, preserving a 4-2 victory over the Rockies despite the apparent injury while working the second of back-to-back days.
He stayed in the game with two outs and the bases loaded after turning his right ankle on a 1-0 pitch to Tyler Colvin. Turns out, Wilson really hurt his arm – whether the injury happened on that pitch is still somewhat of a mystery – but he refused to be pulled out.
”My mindset was, OK, if it’s inflammation, get out of your mess. If this is season ending, your last pitch is going to be preserving (Madison) Bumgarner’s win and not walking off the mound a failure,” Wilson said. ”That’s just how I pitch. I don’t care how painful it is.”
At least for now, Wilson’s replacement will likely come by committee.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said it would be nice to find a regular closer. In the meantime, he plans to give the ninth-inning opportunities to Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo or even lefty Javier Lopez – all of whom helped fill in when Wilson missed time late last season with elbow issues.
Bochy and athletic trainer Dave Groeschner were adamant the team followed every step of Wilson’s rehab properly – and the closer agreed – last year and this offseason. Wilson felt something in the elbow at Colorado, Groeschner said, but didn’t tell the team until Friday about the discomfort.
Wilson, who already had one Tommy John surgery during college, was then sent for tests. The results seemed to surprise even Bochy considering Wilson was still hitting 95 mph on the radar and 89 with his cutting fastball against the Rockies.
”It’s pretty amazing where he was at given with what happened,” Bochy said. ”He was still pretty good.”
The eccentric right-hander with the bushy, black beard means as much to the clubhouse – regularly playing dominoes and pulling pranks with teammates – as he does when he runs out of the bullpen with House of Pain’s ”Jump Around” blaring over the ballpark’s speakers. Still, with a deep bullpen, the loss doesn’t figure to cost San Francisco the way star catcher Buster Posey’s season-ending leg and ankle injury did after a home-plate collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins last May 25.
In fact, Wilson believes he’ll have more time for his off-the-field antics in the clubhouse while rehabbing than before.
He joked that he might hop in the broadcast booth and ”maybe win an Emmy.” He still has another arbitration year under contract with the Giants, telling fans and media, ”You’re welcome.” And he’s not worried about coming back, saying it’s an ”opportunity for me to get a better arm. How’s that disappointing?”
”If I plan on playing forever,” Wilson said, smiling, ”then this is a small percentage of my career.”