SEATTLE — With Felix Hernandez moved back one day in the rotation to face the Oakland Athletics on Friday, the Seattle Mariners had a hole to fill in the series finale Thursday against the Minnesota Twins.
They filled it Wednesday, when announced they’ll start right-handed pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen.
Wilhelmsen hasn’t been a regular starter at any level since 2011, when he was with Double-A Jackson. He did start two games in Tacoma in 2013, but both lasted less than two innings.
“He’s a power arm,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s got four quality pitches, and he’s thrived in that long role. It’s interesting.”
Wilhelmsen, 30, has a 2.49 ERA over 47 innings this season. He hasn’t pitched more than three innings all season, which he has done twice, most recently in a 10-4 win June 30 at Houston.
Wilhemsen said he talked to McClendon about starting a few days ago, and told the manager he was more than up for it. He said he and McClendon also talked about him potentially moving him into a starting role, but that he’s going to treat Thursday like a regular night in the bullpen.
“I’m going to do everything we normally do, throw my pitches in the bullpen and head out,” Wilhelmsen said.
With Wilhelmsen likely to go only three or four innings, McClendon might have to reach into his bullpen early. Relief pitchers have thrown five innings or more 11 times this season, and have a 1.79 ERA in those games.
The Mariners also announced Hisashi Iwakuma will now start on Saturday, and Chris Young on Sunday. The A’s (57-33) have the best record in baseball, and many see the series as a litmus test for the Mariners.
But McClendon said he isn’t one of them, and that he isn’t making the moves to prove anything.
“It gives (Hernandez) an extra day, it gives me our best pitchers against our division rival, and also it sets things up for the second half,” he said. “”I’m not putting that this is the series of the year.”
Walker sent down, Pryor called up
In order to keep him on his regular schedule, Seattle optioned right-hander Taijuan Walker to Triple-A Tacoma, so that he can continue to pitch over the All-Star break.
The move isn’t permanent — McClendon said the 21-year old will make one or two starts for the Rainiers, and then be back for the Mariners series July 21-23 with the New York Mets.
“It just makes sense,” McClendon said. “We have a chance to bring an arm in for the next few days, just manipulate the roster and hopefully it works to our advantage a little bit.”
That arm is right-hander Stephen Pryor, whom the Mariners recalled from Tacoma in a corresponding move. The 24-year old appeared in 26 games for Seattle in 2012, and seven in 2013 before undergoing surgery to repair a back injury.
He started the year on the disabled list, and pitched four games for Jackson before moving to Tacoma, where he pitched in 21 games and had a 4.91 ERA.
Pryor said his arm feels good, that the last few weeks his pitching has started returning to the point where he wants it to be, and that his he’s taken the right steps to come back.
“I’m not hitting 100 on the gun,” he said. “But I think I can go out there and compete with what I have. I’ve hit 96 a few times, and I’m starting to fine-tune my command and getting sharpness on my breaking ball.”
“I’m happy to be back,” he said. “I’m feeling healthy now, and I just hope I can contribute in some way.”
Thursday, July 10, marks the 13th anniversary of the 2001 All-Star game held at Safeco Field. Mariners pitcher Freddy Garcia was the winning pitcher, and Kazuhiro Sasaki recorded the save for the AL.
A team-record eight Mariners were selected to the All-Star team that year: Sasaki, Garcia, Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki and Jeff Nelson.
Seattle (49-41) is looking to win its 50th game of the season, which it hasn’t done before the All-Star break since 2003. … Seattle is 0 for its past 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position, and is hitting .056 with nine strikeouts in those situations over the stretch. … Felix Hernandez (2.11 ERA) is looking to hold the lowest ERA in club history going into the All-Star break of any pitcher with at least 10 games started. … The Mariners lead the AL in fielding, with a .987 percentage and only 42 errors.
Seattle wraps up a four-game series with the Minnesota Twins Thursday night at Safeco Field. Wilhelmsen (1-1, 2.49 ERA) will face right-hander Yohan Pino (0-2, 4.98 ERA). The game will start at 7:10 p.m. and be broadcast on Root Sports.