Tom Wilhelmsen was back in the clubhouse with his Mariners teammates this morning, working on a crossword puzzle before attempting the first step back towards solving the puzzle that his MLB career has become. Wilhelmsen said it isn’t much of a mystery what he worked on in Class AAA the past month.
“Throwing strikes,” he said. “Trying to throw strikes. It’s kind of been that way and not just the past month. It’s what you’re always trying to do.”
Wilhelmsen posted a 10.50 ERA in eight outings spanning 12 innings for the Rainiers.
“I guess if I’m working on throwing strikes and the numbers weren’t good, that means I’m throwing strikes,” he said. “Because they’re hitting them. So, I was successful in doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
Wilhelmsen said he’s been trying to relax more and pound the strike zone. For the most part, he added, he was pitching the way he’ll continue to pitch in the majors.
Which begs the question: what’s he doing back up in the majors?
Yes, it’s September call-up time and Mike Zunino will join the team tomorrow in Kansas City and catch Felix Hernandez — a welcome sign, since he’ll now have a full month of MLB action after breaking that hamate bone in his hand. Some more additions will come after that.
But with Wilhelmsen, the team has already seen him get lit-up in the majors. He got lit-up in the minors too. So, what’s the potential gain in the Mariners using him against higher-caliber opponents (today aside) the rest of the way?
“We’ve seen him come up here before and do well, even better than what he did in the minor leagues,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said, referring to the second-half of 2011, when Wilhelmsen looked dominant in the bullpen after getting knocked around as a AAA starter. “So, hopefully he can flip that switch again. I do feel strongly that he’s going to be a part of this. In what role, I don’t know. He has too big an arm. He has too much experience. He’s had too much success up here in a vital role not to be.”
Wedge did say he feels Wilhelmsen’s “personality” lends itself more to relief pitching than starting, despite his three-pitch repertoire.
“I think he has the pitches to be a starter if he needs to be,” he said. “But now you’re talking about stretching a guy out. You’re talking about taking years to stretch him out before he can be a viable starter who can throw 170, or 180, not to mention 200 innings. That’s not something that happens overnight without putting him in harm’s way.”
I asked Wedge what in Wilhelmsen’s “personality” lends itself more to relief pitching.
“He’s a go-getter, he’s ready to go every day,” Wedge said. “He has a level of intensity about him. He’s a guy that is a little bit more carefree. I think all those things kind of lend itself to the bullpen.”
Wedge said there’s no set bullpen role for Wilhelmsen right now. He’ll use him as a needed arm from the right side, enabling him to ease the workload of Yoervis Medina and Carter Capps. As well as Medina has pitched, he’s only in his first big league season and young arms tend to burn out in the majors this time of year since the AAA season would normally be ending for them in another day or two.
Wilhelmsen was asked whether he can go three innings, if needed.
“I might even play shortstop,” he said. “I was starting there (in AAA), relieving. I’m all over the place. Maybe DH? We’ll see.”
Brad Miller has done OK at shortstop. Kendrys Morales, though, has seen his numbers dip the past month and looked awful hacking away at that first pitch over his head with the bases loaded in last night’s eighth inning.
So, who knows? If this whole relieving thing doesn’t click…Wilhelmsen at the plate couldn’t be that much worse than Jose Vidro or Jack Cust the final days they were collecting Mariners’ paychecks, right? Right? Anybody still paying attention? There must be a high school football game on TV someplace.