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Wilson new keystone in no-roles bullpen

Righty records 5-out save in Tigers' first game minus Soria

BALTIMORE -- Tigers relievers were getting ready to head out to their center-field bullpen at Camden Yards on Thursday when they saw Joakim Soria called back.

"We saw Soria get pulled into the office and kind of figured," left-hander Blaine Hardy said. "Losing a guy like that is tough, but we tried to make the best out of it out there, making [predictions] out there about who's going to close."

Neftali Feliz got some selection, since he's been a closer before. So did Bruce Rondon, because of his stuff. Alex Wilson got some predictions, too.

Nobody predicted a five-out save, but when Wilson entered the game with one out in the eighth inning of the Tigers' 9-8 victory, they figured it was his game to lose.

"I had a feeling that if you're going to put him in the game, you might as well run with him," Hardy said, "because he's been unbelievable so far. With his cutter and his slider, locating his fastball, there's no telling what he can do. Didn't expect him to basically have to throw the eighth and the ninth, but he's done it all year. It's not like it was anything new to him."

Wilson, for his part, didn't know until he walked off the mound at the end of the eighth and didn't see anybody warming up.

It wasn't easy -- not when he entered in an eighth-inning jam, nor when Matt Wieters' two-out single in the ninth brought J.J. Hardy to the plate as the potential winning run in a game the Tigers led by seven runs at two different points. But when Wilson finished off Hardy with a ground ball to short, his first Major League save staked his claim to get the chance for more.

"It's a little unconventional," Wilson said, "but I'll take it. If I have to run out for five outs every time we get a win, that's what I'll do."

He would love to be the Tigers' closer. He will get the chance at more saves, according to manager Brad Ausmus. He does not get the closer's title. Nobody does for now.

Before the Soria trade, the Tigers had a closer, but no other set bullpen role. With Soria now gone, there are no roles. Essentially, it's bullpen anarchy.

"People always say they want to assign roles or relief pitchers would like to know their role," Ausmus said. "But you've got to earn a role. It's as simple as that. And roles aren't handed out. You've got to earn them. Joakim Soria earned the role as a closer. He did it, produced that way, and he did a very good job for us while he was here.

"If somebody steps up and shows that they can pitch in a certain slot, we'll put them there. But at this point, I don't know that we've seen that."

Video: DET@BAL: Tigers on losing Price, Soria to trades

It might be the best opportunity Wilson could ask for. He might have the lightest track record of anybody in this bullpen, but so far this season, he has been the best performer, the most consistent reliever they've had.

If anybody, Tigers bullpen or elsewhere, had predicted in Spring Training that Alex Wilson would end up closing games in Detroit, it would have been crazy. It's not that way now.

"To get a chance to run back out there in the ninth inning, it's just one more chance, one more opportunity for me to go out there and prove myself," Wilson said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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