PEORIA, Ariz. — Right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen’s long route through baseball has him holding the role of a major league closer at the start of the season for the first time.
Wilhelmsen just re-entered professional baseball in 2010 after taking five years off and now is wading through his first spring training with a clearly defined job.
After the Mariners dealt Brandon League and his varying results midway through the 2012 season, Wilhelmsen took over the ninth inning. His 2.50 ERA, 29 saves and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings have him as the Mariners’ closer going into this season. Yet, he’s approaching spring training
as if he’s again fighting for a spot on the roster.
“You still have to work it and show everybody that you deserve the spot because there’s quite a bit of other folks that can fall into that hole, as far as the closer’s role goes,” Wilhelmsen said. “I still feel like I have to prove it.”
Wilhelmsen had a relaxed winter in Arizona — he’s from Tucson — thanks to the cooperation of his daughter, Hahna, who was born in August.
“She’s an angel so far,” Wilhelmsen said. “Sleeps through the night. She’s a happy-go-lucky girl. She eats all of her peas, which is more than I can say for her dad.”
Wilhelmsen watched her more than he worked on baseball. He went to the Peoria complex on occasion, but is working his way back into things with spring training. He threw his first live batting practice Tuesday, where he worked on his sinker and change-up.
Wilhelmsen’s success is predicated on three pitches: a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball and a curveball that drops like a filled flour sack.
He’s tinkering with the sinker and change-up. He throws a circle change using a grip akin to Felix Hernandez’s. With Hernandez’s change-up regarded as one of the best in the game, Wilhelmsen laughs when asked if he gets equivalent action on his change.
“Yeah, right,” Wilhelmsen said. “I’m trying to. I went over to him and asked him how he threw it last year. Now, I’m playing with it.
“I threw the change-up maybe a dozen times last year. When I threw it, I was happy with it. It’s a pitch I don’t want to throw too much because I feel my strengths are in the fastball and curveball. But I do want that brewing in the back of hitter’s heads.”
Wilhelmsen earned his way into the closer’s role from a middle relief job then a setup position. Seated next to Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor in the Peoria clubhouse makes it easy for him to see the young challengers and possible future considerations for the closer spot.
“They’re all pretty phenomenal, these kids,” Wilhelmsen said. “They work hard, they’re in it every single day, they’ve got electrifying stuff and they want (the role) just as bad as anyone else. (You’re) going to have to elevate your game to stay where you want to be with these young kids nipping on your heels.”
FELIX FEELING FINE
Felix Hernandez threw his first bullpen session of the spring Wednesday. Hernandez threw 33 pitches, change-ups and fastballs.
The Mariners have been moving along slowly with Hernandez this spring, but say it has nothing to do with any physical concerns about the highest-paid pitcher in major league history.
“We don’t have any worries about Felix right now,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s just somebody we want to slow play a little bit because we’re starting so early. There’s no reason for him to get out there early like that.”
The Mariners haven’t decided next time Hernandez will take the mound.
The Mariners traded Mike Carp to the Red Sox on Wednesday for cash considerations or a player to be named.
Today was the deadline for the Mariners to trade or release Carp after designating him for assignment when they acquired Joe Saunders on Feb. 12.
Carp, 26, appeared in 173 games over four seasons with the Mariners (2009-2012). He hit .255 with 28 doubles, two triples and 18 home runs. The Mariners acquired him from the New York Mets in a three-team, 12-player trade on Dec. 10, 2008.
Wedge said outfielder Michael Saunders can play all three positions and will mix and match him with Michael Morse, Raul Ibañez and Jason Bay. On a rare rainy and windy day in Peoria, the Mariners took batting practice and threw their bullpen sessions in the batting cage. The Mariners will start Hector Noesi on Friday, Blake Beavan on Saturday and Erasmo Ramirez on Sunday in the first three exhibitions of spring training, all against the Padres.email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas