When we discuss baseball, the need for an ace starter can be overblown from time to time. Obviously you want a great pitcher at the top of your rotation, but there are a lot more games started by the other four guys than there are by the man determined to be numero uno.
There are moments, though, when you need your pitcher to take the ball, throw the team on his back and will themselves to a victory. The Rangers faced one of those moments on Wednesday.
Three straight losses, a slumping offense, faltering defense and mounting injuries had the team looking like a boulder picking up momentum as it careened down a steep hill. Someone needed to stand in front of that boulder and stop its progress before this rough patch metastasized into something far more malignant.
Enter C.J. Wilson. He was everything the Rangers could have asked for and a little bit more in the 5-2 win. He went the distance, striking out 12, walking just one and allowing six hits in one of the best performances of his career. He didn't let the sloppy defense early throw him off his game and he didn't show even a little fatigue as he closed out the Mariners.
The raw numbers are impressive, but the story behind them is even better. Wilson threw 87 pitches through five innings as he labored to work around the defense but needed only 38 to finish off Seattle. The 125 pitches are a career high, but Wilson's body language and demeanor made it clear that he would have thrown 40 more if that's what it took to finish the game.
There's not much chance he'd need to work that hard, though. Wilson's a better pitcher in every way this season than he was during his breakout 2010 while continuing to do his best work when starting after a loss.
He's striking out a batter more per nine innings and his walk rate is down from 4.1 to 2.4 per nine. He's taking more and more of the responsibility for winning and losing on his own shoulders, a trait he shares with the best starting pitchers in baseball.
It's a tad premature to include Wilson in the upper echelon, but it isn't going to be a shock if he's there before the season comes to a close. That'll work for any ace needs that pop up in the months to come.