CHICAGO — There’s something about Bryse Wilson and pitching in the first inning.
With his three first-inning runs allowed on Monday, Wilson has allowed 10 total in the opening frame this season — more earned runs than innings 2-7 combined (7). And when Dillon Peters ran into trouble in the first after allowing five of seven batters to reach base, the right-hander was put into the game right away with the bases loaded.
Three batters later, Willson Contreras sent Wilson’s curveball to the left-field bleachers for a grand slam and the Pirates could never recover as they fell to the Cubs, 9-0, at Wrigley Field on Monday night.
“Coming out in the first inning, I need to be a little bit more aggressive and figure it out,” Wilson said. “We’ve been working on [the mechanics] and we finally got the mechanics cleaned up a little bit. And now it’s just recognizing what kind of usages I need to be doing, as far as pitch usages.”
Wilson’s relief appearance came sooner than expected when he ran to the pitcher’s mound in the first inning. It’s a situation that no one wants to face.
And the starter turned reliever for Monday struggled to get out of the inning, allowing four hits, one walk and three runs on the grand slam. Wilson inherited the runner on third (Jonathan Villar) on the homer.
“It’s a different situation than what I’m used to,” Wilson said. “But I think at the end of the day, I just [have to] execute the pitch. The curveball to Contreras, you just got to know that he’s probably going to ambush it. I don’t think it changes anything about the way I’m pitching and how I want to execute pitches.”
It’s been a tough stretch for Wilson starting off games, which was a big reason why manager Derek Shelton decided to plug him in behind Peters in bullpen games.
“I think it’s command, and I think we saw that a little bit today with the walk and the bad pitch,” Shelton said of Wilson’s first-inning struggles. “But he settled down, and we just have to continue to work on that.”
After the rough first inning, the right-hander really settled in. He went 5 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits, three earned runs and two walks with two strikeouts.
His line without the first: five innings, four hits, no earned runs and one walk with two strikeouts.
That’s been the formula for Wilson this season — successful in relief appearances and not so much in his starts. Over his three games out of the bullpen, he’s given up three earned runs — all Monday — across 13 innings. As a starter, he has surrendered 14 runs across 14 innings.
Wilson understands the struggles of his first innings so far in 2022 and has a simple plan to fix it before his next appearance: attack hitters.
“I just need to go out in the first inning and attack instead of trying to settle in and save pitches,” the right-hander said. “I just need to come in and use whatever I need to to get people out.”
He followed that plan by attacking Andrelton Simmons, the first batter he faced on the night. But after allowing an infield single on a swinging bunt, Wilson lost control. He walked Rafael Ortega and then gave Contreras a hanging 76.7 mph curveball in the middle of the zone.
“I thought Bryse did a nice job,” Shelton said. “Besides the walk [to Ortega] and a bad pitch to Willson that he hit out of the ballpark for the grand slam, I thought he threw the ball pretty well.”
After that first inning, Wilson did his thing. He was on point with his fastball — drawing five whiffs on 35 pitches thrown — and was able to pitch deep into the game to preserve the bullpen arms.
“I felt really, really good,” Wilson said. “We attacked with the fastball really well. I felt really good, mechanics felt really good.”
It wasn’t Wilson’s best relief outing of the season, but he stayed composed throughout. He attacked when he needed to. And if it wasn’t for that swinging bunt by Simmons to extend the first inning, he could have gotten out of the jam.
“Any other day, Simmons hits it a little harder and it’s a groundout and we’re out of the inning,” Wilson said.