When Duane Below picked up back-to-back wins last week in long-relief duty — the second in relief of Fister — many thought the Michigan native could get a shot, but the Tigers appear to like him out of the bullpen. Andrew Oliver and Casey Crosby both were in the race for the fifth spot out of Spring Training (Oliver more than Crosby), but both struggled in their first starts in Toledo. The only Mud Hens starter who threw well early was Wilk, who gave up one hit in five scoreless innings, along with six strikeouts last Friday. Wilk was one of the first players eliminated from the fifth-starter race in the spring, but a good start in Toledo's opener was enough for Jim Leyland.
So let's take a look at Wilk. It is unclear how many starts he will make. Fister went on the 15-day DL on Sunday with an abdominal strain. The Tigers don't have a timetable for his return, only saying he'll come back when he's pain-free. The Tigers have only said Wilk will start Saturday against the White Sox. After that appears to be question mark. He will be pitching on seven days' rest.
Wilk is a crafty lefty with a below-average fastball and a decent changeup, but needs a better breaking ball. Without the velocity, his margin for error is small. Wilk is ranked as the No. 32 prospect in the organization by TigsTown.
Last season, Wilk got his first taste of the majors with five appearances out of the bullpen. He gave up 14 hits and eight earned runs in 13 1/3 innings, but all of them were singles. His debut was against the Red Sox last May, where he gave up two hits and one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings. But it was his only scoreless appearance. He has shown the ability to pick up some unexpected strikeouts — with 10 for the Tigers last year and six in his Toledo start Friday — but isn't going to overpower hitters by any means.
Although the sample size is small (243 pitches), Brooks Baseball shows that Wilk was confident in "three" pitches during his short time with the Tigers. Wilk went with the fastball 49 percent of the time, the slider 24 percent of the time and the changeup 18 percent. The curveball that needs to develop was thrown 13 times (5 percent). The problem is, Wilk doesn't really have separate slider and curve pitches. It's more of a slurve that is more effective some times than others. When it has more velocity, it gets labeled as a slider in the data and is more effective than when it's curve-esque.
With the Tigers last year, 72 percent of Wilk's "sliders" were thrown for strikes, along with 62 percent of the fastballs. The slider was where Wilk got the most whiffs too, at 15 percent, compared to just six percent on the fastball. The changeup was a strike 58 percent of the time, with a swinging strike 12 percent of the time. Of his 13 "curveballs," none was called for a strike nor induced a swing and a miss.
In Toledo last year, Wilk went 8-6 with a 4.12 FIP and 1.16 WHIP. He walked 14 batters in 102 2/3 innings for the Mud Hens.
In Spring Training this year, Wilk gave up 19 hits and 10 earned runs in 12 innings. Opponents hit .365 off him and he had a 1.75 WHIP. He showed some command with just two walks, but he needs to be spot-on if he wants to be successful at the big-league level. His projected FIPs with Detroit this year are 4.12 (Marcel, Steamer) and 4.74 (ZIPS), per FanGraphs.