ARLINGTON, Texas — Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson admits he's a bit of an "odd guy."
Wilson, 30, blends Southern California cool with his eclectic interests, from watching "Shark Week" on TV to following Formula One racing and picking up photography. He isn't afraid to speak his mind, whether it's Tweeting to a rude fan to "put some soap in your mouth" or quoting a Samurai proverb in a news conference.
But when it comes to being on the mound, Wilson is all business, and the only odd thing is how he has consistently baffled the Rays. Though he's not Cliff Lee, who beat the Rays twice in last year's AL Division Series, Rays manager Joe Maddon acknowledged that Wilson is "kind of a Lee."
Wilson, an All-Star, enters tonight's Game 1 start at Rangers Ballpark having gone 5-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 18 games (five starts) against Tampa Bay, including a shutout in last year's playoffs.
"I just want to figure out a way to not come into the locker room after the game and talk about how good C.J. was," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "He's been a thorn in our side from last year, all the way into this year. I've looked at enough (film) to know what the back of his head looks like with my eyes closed. I don't know what it is, but there has to be something there, and we need to figure it out sooner rather than later."
Wilson (16-7), in his second full season as a starter after beginning his career in the bullpen, got even better this year, cutting his walks by 20 in 191/3 more innings while striking out 206 and posting a 2.94 ERA, the best for a Ranger since Nolan Ryan's 2.91 20 years ago.
Wilson, a deliberate and determined lefty, said he has been able to become more consistent and make the necessary adjustments as he's not going to "sneak up" on anyone anymore.
As for Maddon saying Wilson is Lee-like, hitting coach Derek Shelton says there's one aspect in which the Rangers ace emulates the former one.
"The fact he's able to throw the ball to both sides of the plate for a left-hander is very rare," Shelton said. "Going off that, he's got really good stuff. … He's a tough matchup, this guy is one of the better left-handed pitchers in the game."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.