MINNEAPOLIS — For all of the statistical and scouting analysis that so thoroughly permeates baseball, there are times when there is no discernible “why” to explain what happens.
Consider the case of Seattle Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, who entered the weekend on a run of 11ª scoreless innings over his past nine appearances. He also has 13 strikeouts in that span.
That “why” comes in two parts, and the first part ... well, that’s easily explained.
“He’s throwing more strikes,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I just think (it stems from) the fact he’s in the zone a lot more and not working behind in the count as often. He’s got a lot of weapons, plus he throws 97 (mph).
“When you’re behind in the count, and you’re forced to use the fastball ... hitters don’t care how hard you throw if they know it’s coming. The fact that he’s throwing more strikes early is making him a lot more effective.”
Wilhelmsen is throwing strikes on 65 percent of his pitches over his scoreless run. Contrast that with his first nine outings, when it was just 51 percent — and he gave up six runs (five earned) in 9ª innings.
Now, the second part: Why is he throwing more strikes? Did he tweak something in his delivery? Change his approach? Shift emphasis in his repertoire of pitches?
“No. ... I guess it’s just that time of the cycle,” Wilhelmsen said. “I’m just trying to get ahead of guys. It’s the same (approach). It’s just falling in the zone a little bit better, I guess. I’ll take it.”
Back in the lineup
Michael Saunders returned to the starting lineup Friday for the first time since suffering a hyperextended left knee last Saturday, when he stumbled and fell while chasing a fly ball in right field.
“I’m ready to go,” he said.
Saunders also returned as the No. 2 hitter, a role he filled 39 times as a starter in his career but not since September. He batted leadoff in 12 of his last 13 starts before the injury.
“The general consensus is (as a No. 2 hitter) you might see more fastballs,” Saunders said. “I think it depends more on the pitcher, and it depends on how guys typically get you out.
“That being said, a guy like (James) Jones gets on first base, he’s a threat to steal. You might see another fastball here or there. But I really feel (for the most part), they’re going to pitch to their strength and to your weaknesses.”
There’s another factor, though: Batting No. 2 means you bat in front of Robinson Cano.
“Now, he might let you see a few more fastballs,” Saunders said. “They definitely don’t want to walk you with him behind you.”
Left-hander James Paxton and right-hander Taijuan Walker are scheduled for the next step Saturday in their recovery from injuries.
Paxton will throw two simulated innings. It will be his first work against hitters since a strained left back muscle forced his exit April 8 against the Los Angeles Angels.
Barring a setback, Paxton is expected to throw one more simulated game before heading out on a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
Plans call for Walker to throw roughly 45 pitches in his third bullpen workout since his shoulder soreness resurfaced in mid-April. If all goes well, he likely will pitch a simulated game by the middle of next week.
For those scoring at home, Major League Baseball issued some scoring changes for recent games.
Saunders received credit for a bunt single May 6 in Oakland on what had been scored as a sacrifice bunt and a throwing error by Athletics reliever Jim Johnson. Saunders’ average inched up from .226 to .235.
MLB also reversed an error charged to Cano at second base May 1 in New York. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira has been credited with a single, adding an earned run to Roenis Elias’ line. Elias’ earned-run average went from 3.50 to 3.69.
MOCKING UP THE DRAFT
Major League Baseball’s three-day first-year player draft begins June 5, which means mock drafts are starting to appear from some of the game’s analysts.
So what will the Mariners do with the sixth overall pick?
ESPN.com’s Keith Law projects Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto, while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo says Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Beede.
Neither analyst sounds particularly confident in his prediction.
“The Mariners, along with the Brewers, are among the most secretive clubs around the draft,” Law wrote, “and have been linked to a lot of names, including Conforto, Alex Jackson, Aaron Nola, Nick Gordon, Casey Gillaspie, Kyle Freeland and Grant Holmes.”
Added Mayo: “There’s a general consensus about the top five names, if not the order. This is where it starts getting iffy. Beede is one of many in the mix.”
Before Triple-A Tacoma infielder Chris Taylor landed on the seven-day disabled list because of a broken left pinkie, he played well enough to draw recognition from Baseball America in its weekly Prospect Hot Sheet.
“Drafted because of his glove, the 23-year-old Taylor has proven to be much better with the bat than expected,” the report stated.
Taylor is batting .372 in 35 games with the Rainiers. He loomed as a possible call-up candidate until his injury Tuesday on a slide at second base.
The injury isn’t believed to be serious, but the Mariners won’t have a firm idea on a recovery schedule until Taylor is re-examined next week in Seattle.
The Mariners are listing right-handers Hisashi Iwakuma and Brandon Maurer as starting pitchers Tuesday and Wednesday at Texas. The Rangers plan to start right-handers Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch. ... Mariners pitchers entered the weekend with 66 three-pitch strikeouts. Only Oakland, with 68, had more among American League clubs.
The Mariners continue their three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at 4:10 p.m. Saturday at Target Field. Rookie left-hander Elias (3-2, 3.69 ERA) will start against Minnesota right-hander Sam Deduno (0-2, 3.64). Root Sports will carry the game.