And Wilhelmsen makes it 25

Mariners notebook: Right-hander beats his own '2 percent chance' to join roster

March 30, 2011 

PEORIA, Ariz. - The 25th man on the Seattle Mariners opening night roster is Tom Wilhelmsen, who gave himself a 98 percent chance of not making the team this spring.

That’s right – not making it.

“I thought I had maybe a 2 percent chance of making it,” Wilhelmsen said Tuesday. “I thought with my lack of experience, I’d wind up in Class Double-A.”

Instead, the 6-foot-6, 27-year-old right-hander just kept throwing strikes, held his composure and won over manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis. So much so that after seeing left-hander Cesar Jimenez clear waivers, the team optioned him to the Tacoma Rainiers.

And made Wilhelmsen, who tended bar last fall, a member of the Seattle Mariners. He took the news in typical rookie stride.

“A bunch of different feelings went through me. It was special,” Wilhelmsen said. “I called my wife, my dad, my mother, my brother and my best friends …”

You get the idea.

Wilhelmsen completed the roster and the bullpen, giving the Mariners at least three relievers – along with Aaron Laffey and David Pauley – capable of giving the team multiple innings.

“Tom was always a tremendous kid, an All-Star in Class A with Milwaukee,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “He came in here and threw his fastball in the mid-90s, showed a great breaking pitch and maturity.

“We said we wanted this camp open to competition. Well, Tom competed – and he won a job”

Wilhelmsen said the goal coming in was to make an impression, go the minors and maybe get a call to the big leagues later in the season.

Zduriencik said this roster was “still short a big bat,” and would have to work to score runs, but that it was a team capable of surprising.

“We’ll play smart baseball,” he said. “We’ll play good defense, we’ll manufacture runs, we’ll pitch well.”

They’ll do it all, when the season opens, without Franklin Gutierrez.

“Starting without your Gold Glove center fielder hurts,” Zduriencik said. “That’s a big loss. The good news is, he felt good today and worked out with the team. That’s a positive.”

The negative: The team hasn’t been able to determine the cause of the stomach ailments troubling Gutierrez since last season. Tests have eliminated plenty of possibilities, but nothing has yet pinpointed the issue.

AARDSMA UPDATE

Less than a month ago, David Aardsma was on crutches, which made him seem a long way from closing games for the Seattle Mariners.

December hip surgery had been more extensive than initially expected, and Aardsma was hurting – even walking on crutches was painful. Then came the rehab exercises, the pool work, the stretches …

On Monday, Aardsma took the mound for the first time this spring for a serious bullpen session.

“I threw 20 pitches at 100 percent,” he said Tuesday. “Well, 100 percent of what I’ve got. I’m a little sore today, but it’s a good sore. I feel like I’m part of spring training.”

Just in time to break camp.

There is no exact timetable for Aardsma’s return, but May 1 has always been a vague target date. Aardsma will throw another bullpen session Thursday in Oakland, the day before Seattle’s opening night game.

Waiting just ahead: strengthening his right arm, mixing in fastballs with forkballs, finding command, facing hitters.

Throwing in the bullpen was a huge step forward for Aardsma, and perhaps his team. A month ago, he seemed light years from closing. Now May 1 looks conservative.

ARIZONA FINALE

Ryan Langerhans had three RBI, Jack Cust homered, and the Mariners beat the Rockies, 7-2, in their final Arizona exhibition game.

The win pushed their record to 16-12-2 and, with one exhibition game left, assured them of their first winning spring record since 2004.

SHORT HOPS

Doug Fister’s final tuneup was a four-inning start in which he shut out Colorado. David Pauley threw two shutout innings, and Jamey Wright added one – his 12th inning this spring without giving up a run. … Knuckleball specialist Charlie Haeger, whose spring was gutted by back problems, had minor back surgery and will be out six to eight weeks. Haeger will be limited to working with trainers in Seattle’s extended spring program. … Pitcher Shawn Kelley, on the 60-day disabled list after major elbow surgery last September, will begin throwing off the mound in a few days, he said. He won’t be eligible to pitch with Seattle until June 1. … Left-hander Nate Robertson has regained his range of motion since elbow surgery during spring training to remove bone chips. As the team breaks camp, Robertson will stay behind and work in extended spring, eventually joining a minor league team to pitch competitively. Consider him a starting pitcher in waiting. The Mariners do. … Left-hander Cesar Jimenez had a tough camp, never pitching a 1-2-3 inning, then cleared waivers. Once he had, the Mariners outrighted him to Tacoma.

ON TAP

Seattle plays the Dodgers in Los Angeles today in a 7:07 p.m. game on FSN. Probable starting pitchers: Seattle’s Erik Bedard vs. Rubby De La Rosa.

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners

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