BALTIMORE — If and when the Seattle Mariners find themselves in another save situation, Tom Wilhelmsen won’t be taking the mound to secure the win.
For the second time this season, Wilhelmsen has lost his closing job.
Acting manager Robby Thompson met with pitching coach Carl Willis before Friday’s game in Baltimore and decided to try someone other than Wilhelmsen in save situations.
“As of right now, maybe like we’ve done in the past, we’ll try to piece it together and match up,” Thompson said. “And we’ll go from there.”
Wilhelmsen was called on to pitch the ninth inning with a five-run lead Thursday night against Boston. He faced four batters and didn’t register an out. He walked the leadoff hitter, gave up a single and a double, and then walked another batter. It set in motion the catastrophic ninth-inning meltdown by the Mariners’ bullpen, leading to an 8-7 loss.
“Those games that are like that, and even in closer games where we’ve got the lead, we’ve got to try to find a way to win that ballgame,” Thompson said.
So now he will use right-handers Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina, and lefties Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush based on the matchups with opposing hitters and who has yet to pitch.
It’s the same philosophy that manager Eric Wedge employed when he stripped Wilhelmsen of his closing duties June 13, the day after Wilhelmsen imploded against Houston, giving up five runs on three hits with two walks in two-thirds of an inning.
It was the final straw in a bad run of pitching that started with a blown save in Cleveland when he dropped the ball and failed to make the would-be final out of the game while trying to cover first base. He blew another save in Minnesota, picked up a few shaky saves and then blew two more leads. The loss to the Astros forced Wedge to take action.
Thompson’s decision wasn’t based solely on Wilhelmsen’s implosion Thursday. Wilhelmsen had been skirting trouble in even his best outings.
In his past 10 appearances, he has notched six saves, but they’ve been a little shaky. In those 10 outings, only twice has he had clean innings — allowing 11 hits and eight runs with nine walks over that span.
It’s a far cry from the Wilhelmsen who started the season. He was almost flawless in his first 17 appearances. He saved 11 games and allowed one run in 18 innings. Opponents had just six hits in 65 plate appearances against him.
But the Wilhelmsen who has taken the mound the last few weeks has looked nothing like that. The current Wilhelmsen is tentative and unsure with his fastball and reluctant with his curveball while seeming to be in a perpetual state of discomfort on the mound.
“For me, watching him, he’s pitching with a little bit of a lack of confidence for me, and he’s not pounding the strike zone,” Thompson said. “He’s not pounding it with fastballs like he did in the past, to get to his breaking ball, to get to that changeup.”
Wilhelmsen can rush that fastball up there from 95 to 100 mph. But right now, he can’t locate it. The walks are indicative of that. And once he starts pitching from behind in counts, that hard fastball becomes more hittable if hitters can expect it.
“When you’re talking about that ninth inning and you’re trying to get those last three outs, you can’t give any free passes,” Thompson said. “That’s like giving that team four or five outs in an inning, and you just can’t get away with that.”
Thompson believes Wilhelmsen will figure it out again. But right now it won’t be during high-pressure situations.
“Tommy is a strong guy and strong-minded,” Thompson said. “I think he’ll be OK, but I think he needs to refocus and get his confidence back in that fastball.”
Thompson said he watched video replays of a mildly controversial pitching change Thursday night where third-base umpire and crew chief Gary Darling said he signaled with his left hand to the bullpen, indicating a left-handed pitcher.
“I went back like I said I was going to and looked at it, and it was basically what I thought I did,” he said. “I pointed at the bullpen (raising his left hand), and I was going to go to my right arm for the right-hander as soon as I pointed, but he didn’t give me time. The second-base umpire (Chris Conroy) turned around and said, ‘The lefty.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t want the lefty. I was pointing to the bullpen, and we’re going to go with the right-hander.’ Gary Darling came over and argued, and said that it was not the case.”
Thompson said he received several text messages from people around baseball saying he was in the right. Even Red Sox manager John Farrell said it was nothing more than a technicality.
There is nothing in the major-league rule book that says an arm raise is the final signal for a pitcher substitution. Under most circumstances, a substitution doesn’t become official until the plate umpire changes it on his lineup card and signals the official scorer.
“If it was to be done again, I think I was in the right,” Thompson said. “I really do.”
The Mariners will send right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (2-0, 7.71 ERA) to the mound for Game 2 of the Seattle-Baltimore series Saturday. The Orioles will go with right-hander Scott Feldman (2-2, 5.12). First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.