HOUSTON — With the roster expansion on Sunday, the Mariners added another arm to the bullpen by calling up reliever and former closer Tom Wilhelmsen from Triple-A Tacoma. He even pitched in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Houston Astros, retiring the hitter he faced.
Wilhelmsen was optioned to Tacoma on Aug. 5 after his continued struggles in late-inning appearances made it impossible for the Mariners to keep him on the big league roster.
There was no secret what Wilhelmsen was working on in Triple A.
“Throwing strikes, just trying to throw strikes,” he said. “It’s been that way the last month (and) what you are always trying to do.”
Wilhelmsen’s stats with Tacoma were unimpressive. He made eight appearances, two starts, threw 12 innings and was 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA while giving up 19 hits and 14 runs with 15 strikeouts.
“If I’m working on throwing strikes and the numbers aren’t good, that means I’m throwing strikes (because) they are hitting them,” he said. “So I was successful in what I was supposed to be doing.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge, aware of the numbers, thinks Wilhelmsen is pitching better than the numbers indicate.
To Wedge, it’s simple what Wilhelmsen needs to do.
“The biggest thing is throwing his fastball where he wants to and being able to execute pitches, working ahead and making it a little bit easier for himself,” Wedge said. “We’ve seen him come up here before and do well, even better than what he did in the minor leagues. Hopefully he can flip that switch again.”
Wedge doesn’t have any firm plans about how he’ll use Wilhelmsen.
“I’m going to use him in multiple roles, really,” he said. “I’m not going to put him in one role or the other. I’m just going to ease him in and see what happens. The sooner we get Tom in there and find out where he is, the sooner we’ll have a better idea of how we can use him.”
While many fans have given up on Wilhelmsen and his late-inning implosions, Wedge isn’t giving up on a pitcher with Wilhelmsen’s powerful fastball and knee-buckling curve.
“I do feel strongly that he’s going to be part of this (team),” Wedge said. “In what role? I don’t know. But he has too big of an arm. He’s had too much experience too much success up here in a vital role not to be. I’m hoping all these trials he’s gone through ultimately help him be a more complete bullpen guy because of what he has gone through. He’s seen both sides of it.”
There was some thought that the Mariners might convert Wilhelmsen to a starting role. But Wedge isn’t ready to do that.
“I still feel like with his personality that he’s still more of a bullpen guy,” Wedge said. “I think he has the pitches to be a starter if he needs to be. But you’re talking about stretching him out where he can be a viable starter where he can throw 170, 180, not to mention, 200 innings. That’s not something that happens overnight without putting him in harm’s way.”
ZUNINO TO RETURN
Wilhelmsen won’t be the only September call-up. Catcher Mike Zunino flew to Kansas City on Sunday and will be in uniform and in the starting lineup on Monday against the Royals.
Zunino is recovering from surgery to remove a broken bone in his left wrist. He has played five games with the Rainiers on a rehabilitation assignment. After Zunino caught nine innings on Saturday, Wedge was ready to bring him back.
As for other potential call-ups, Wedge said the Mariners will wait until after the Tacoma Rainiers’ season finale on Monday.
Any player called up with the expanded rosters must be on the 40-man roster. Any player that isn’t must be added. The Mariners have one spot open.
The Mariners open a four-game visit to Kansas City with a game at 11:10 a.m. Monday.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (12-8, 2.97 ERA) is scheduled to start for Seattle, while Kansas City is likely to go with left-hander Danny Duffy (2-0, 1.10). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM.Ryan. Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish