Wilk Adjusts to Pro Game with Ease

Sometimes it takes a while to adjust to the professional game. Sometimes it's hard to get comfortable. Sometimes it's easy to forget who you are and get lost in the moment.

Unless you're Adam Wilk.

With just over half of his first season of professional baseball in his rearview, Wilk is finding out that, despite the pro game being different from college and high school ball, it's nothing he can't adjust to.

"It's a total different way of doing things because you have to be yourself," Lakeland pitching coach Joe Coleman said. "In college and high school, your coaches dictate what happens. A lot of what happens here you do on your own."

The Detroit Tigers selected the 22-year-old left-hander in the 11th round of the first-year player draft out of Long Beach State, where he earned Second-Team All-Big West honors after going 7-4 with a 2.78 ERA as a junior.

If wins and losses told the whole story, we wouldn't have a very good idea of who Wilk really is as a pro. And neither would he. He's 6-4 after 17 starts in 2010 with the Flying Tigers. He's had some ups, a couple of downs and stretches in which he coasted under the radar on a pitching staff littered with young talent.

Left-hander Charlie Furbush was the talk of the town around the Lakeland campus for most of the year, coming off Tommy John surgery and leading all of minor league baseball in strikeouts for much of the season. After Furbush's promotion to Double-A Erie on June 24, Wilk suddenly found himself in a position to lead a staff on a struggling team, along with fellow pitchers Brayan Villarreal and Luke Putkonen.

"It's not about being the ace or being the talk of the town," said Wilk. "All those accolades are just extra. For me, I just try to go out, give a quality start each time, and give my team a chance to win."

For the most part, that's what he has done.

With more no-decisions than wins in 2010, Wilk has pitched in his fair share of close games. Lack of run support has been a contributing factor at times, but Wilk understands the importance of maintaining focus rather than worrying about the offense.

"It's something I can't control," he said. "It's always nice when your team puts up like a six-spot or a four-spot for you—the dugout's excited, the players are happy, there's lots of energy—but it's something I have to put in the back of my mind, because whether it's 10-0 or 0-0, it's not going to affect the way I pitch on the mound.

"The way I pitch on the mound is gonna be the same every single time. I'm gonna have the same approach to a hitter. I'm not thinking, ‘Oh, it's 10-0. If I make a mistake and he hits a home run, it's okay.' I don't wanna give up a home run. I don't wanna give up hits."

During a five-start stretch in June, Wilk allowed just eight earned runs in 32.1 innings, boasting a 2.42 ERA with 20 strikeouts and just two walks.

However, with just six runs of support in those five starts (three coming in one inning in a win over Bradenton), he was just 1-1. Meanwhile, over five starts in the same stretch, teammate Villarreal received 29 runs of support with stats comparable to Wilk's. Vallarreal was 3-0 in those five starts.

"I can only control the ball until it releases my hand," said Wilk. "I can't control what the umpire does or what my offense does. All I can do is make a quality pitch, and if I do, more often than not the outcome is gonna be in my favor."

Following that five-start stretch in which he received little support, his next start came against the Dunedin Blue Jays on the Fourth of July.

His offense finally came through, exploding for 14 runs on 17 hits against the first-half division champions. But Wilk, true to his sentiment, still pitched his game, tossing seven shutout innings, striking out nine and allowing just four hits.

"That's the nature of the game," said Coleman. "Your approach is to keep your team in the game. If they score the runs and it's enough for you to win, so be it. If they don't, you still have to pitch well enough to give them a chance to win it. And that's the approach you need to take."

In his most recent start, his offense helped him out yet again as the Flying Tigers walloped the Clearwater Threshers 12-2.

Wilk threw another gem, allowing just one run on five hits in six innings, lowering his ERA to 3.02, currently sixth in the FSL. His six wins and 1.11 WHIP are also among the league leaders, and in his league-high 104.1 innings pitched, he has allowed just 12 walks, a stat he takes particular pride in.

"There was a start where I had three walks, and I wasn't too happy about that," said Wilk. "But I've been able to go in and out, control the fastball and throw my secondary pitches for strikes, so that helps. And it doesn't allow me to get to three balls very often because guys are putting the ball in play."

Since that three-walk performance, Wilk has issued just three free passes in his last seven starts. He has allowed just over one walk per nine innings on the year.

"My stuff as a pitcher doesn't play like power stuff," said Wilk, "so I have to be able to control it. I can't give up free bases. If you give up a double and a triple here and there, it's okay if you're not giving those free bases away in between. It keeps those runs off the board."

Wilk leads all Lakeland starters in innings pitched, ERA and WHIP, and his 70 strikeouts and six wins are second on the staff to Villarreal.

"Mechanically he's very strong," said Coleman. "He does everything the right way, he works very, very hard, he pitches with confidence.

"He's developed the way you want people to develop. Earlier in the year he had a couple of rough outings and we made a couple of adjustments. He's a kid that throws strikes. A kid that's definitely able to make adjustments well enough to the point where he can pitch at a high level. Right now it's just experience. He's in his first year of professional baseball."

Lakeland manager Andy Barkett shared Coleman's assessment of Wilk, given his lack of experience and performance to date.

"As a young guy in this system he's pitching well," said Barkett. "He has good control, he throws strikes. Whether or not he can play in the big leagues, we'll see. He needs to keep coming in here, working hard everyday."

As with any player in the minor league system, getting promoted is always the goal.

"I'd like to one day pitch in the big leagues—be a career pitcher," said Wilk. "I just gotta come out here every day and do my work and just get better so my ability and talent and my approach will allow me to become a major league pitcher. But it's all up to (management). It's in their control. All I can do is pitch my game."

Sometimes it's hard to get comfortable at the next level. Just over half way through the first season of his young career, it seems Wilk is having no trouble finding out what his game really is, not only adjusting to the pro game, but thriving.

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