It was a sentence most people figured Eric Wedge would never say at any time during the 2013 season.
And yet, on June 18 following a 3-2 win in extra innings over the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Seattle manager said this:
“We were planning on saving Medina to close, so we couldn’t go to him.”
Medina? As in Yoervis Medina?
In a game against a team featuring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo, Wedge was going to turn to a 24-year-old rookie, who at the time had never registered a save in his brief big league career or even pitched in a save situation in the big leagues, to close out the 10th inning of a game.
Yet, that’s what the bullpen situation has come to this season for the Mariners.
To Medina’s credit, he would notch his first big league save that night, retiring Pujols, Trumbo and Howie Kendrick in order. And he’s been a pleasant surprise this season for the Mariners since being called up in April.
“It’s a situation he hasn’t been in up here before, so he did a great job considering it’s the bottom half of the last inning and especially the hitters he was facing,” Wedge said.
Still, the fact that Medina was being used as the interim closer in the middle of June means something has gone very wrong for the Mariners.
Between injuries, overuse and ineffectiveness, the relief corps has turned into a minor debacle that has Wedge in a situational mess.
And yet, Wedge doesn’t seem fazed by it.
“I’ve seen it too many times,” Wedge said. “I tried to explain it to everybody at spring training: This is who you break camp with, it’s not going to (be) because of injury or performance-related reasons.”
The Mariners opened the season with seven relievers — right-handers Carter Capps, Kameron Loe, Stephen Pryor and Tom Wilhelmsen and left-handers Oliver Perez, Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge.
Going into Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, only Capps, Wilhelmsen, Perez and Furbush remain. Luetge is in Triple-A Tacoma, Pryor is on the 60-day disabled list with a torn side muscle and Loe, after being let go by the Mariners and the Chicago Cubs, is now pitching for the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett, Ga.
Meanwhile, Medina and Danny Farquhar, who were both with the Rainiers to start the season, and Blake Beavan, who started the season in the Mariners’ starting rotation, are now in the bullpen. Along the way, Bobby LaFromboise and Hector Noesi (twice) made appearances in the bullpen.
“You can’t predict this game,” Wedge said. “You just can’t.”
One thing that Wedge couldn’t and didn’t want to predict was the fall of closer Tom Wilhelmsen.
The blown saves, the lost command and the dwindling confidence of Wilhelmsen have been the main reason for the Mariners’ current predicament.
After saving 29 games in 2012 after Brandon League lost the job as closer and was later traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wilhelmsen seemed poised for a huge season.
In his first 17 appearances, Wilhelmsen was nearly flawless. He saved 11 games and allowed one run in 18 innings. Opponents had just six hits in 65 plate appearances against him.
Then it all fell apart.
It started with a blown save in Cleveland when he dropped the final out of the game while trying to cover first base. From there, things got worse. He blew another save in Minnesota, picked up a few shaky saves and then blew two more leads. He was finally removed from the closer role after a ghastly loss at Safeco Field when he gave up five runs on three hits with two walks in two-thirds of an inning to the Houston Astros.
In those 11 appearances, Wilhelmsen gave up 11 earned runs on 11 hits with 10 walks and eight strikeouts in 102/3 innings for a 9.28 ERA.
Wedge had no choice but to try someone else in the closer role. Right now, he’s using Perez and Medina based on who the opposing team is sending to the plate. Capps’ inability to get out left-handers consistently — they are hitting .341 against him — has kept him out of that spot.
“One of the tough things of doing it this way is you have to have potentially one or multiple guys down there ready for that last inning,” Wedge said.
That means Capps, Farquhar, Furbush and now Wilhelmsen all have to pitch setup innings to get there.
It would be easier if the hard-throwing Pryor would have been healthy. The big right-hander was pitching well in early April — seven scoreless innings in seven appearances — before he felt the tear under his throwing arm. He has missed 61 games and likely won’t be back until after the All-Star break.
A healthy Pryor would have slid right into the closer’s role much the way Wilhelmsen did when Brandon League struggled last season.
Until Wilhelmsen regains his April form, this is how Wedge and the Mariners will have to proceed in the near future.
Medina has been solid, but far from consistent. He’s got a live arm that features a 95-97 mph fastball and a good slider. But he’s got a bad habit of issuing early walks — 16 in 26 innings pitched.
Perez might be the best reliever on the team right now with a 0.98 ERA in 30 appearances. He hasn’t allowed a run in his past 11 innings. He’s good enough that he will likely have some trade value.
But the Mariners’ bullpen becomes significantly better if Wilhelmsen is pitching well as the closer.
In three appearances since his demotion, Wilhelmsen still hasn’t looked consistently sharp. He’s pitched 3 innings, giving up three runs on five hits, including two homers, with two walks and three strikeouts.
But Wedge is still going to roll him out there in non-save situations. If he’s on the staff, he has to pitch.
Since the day he took Wilhelmsen off his job as the team’s closer, Wedge has maintained the pitcher will figure it out.
“You know what he’s capable of doing,” Wedge said. “You could make the argument that for six weeks of the season he was the best closer in the league. So you know what they’re capable of doing, so he can get back there.”
mariners: A CLOSER LOOK AT wilhelmsen
TALE OF TWO SEASONS
The Seattle bullpen and closer Tom Wilhelmsen probably would like to return to 2012 considering what they’ve been through this season. Last season, the Mariners converted 69 percent of their save opportunities (tied for 15th in MLB) and blew 19 saves total (tied for 11th in MLB). A look at how the Mariners rate this season:
Most blown saves in MLB
1. Baltimore 15
L.A. Dodgers 15
3. Chicago Cubs 14
5. Minnesota 12
6. SEATTLE 11
Worst save percentagEs IN MLB
1. Chicago Cubs 52 percent
Cleveland 52 percent
3. Boston 54 percent
4. L.A. Dodgers 56 percent
5. New York Mets 57 percent
6. Arizona 60 percent
7. SEATTLE 62 percent
8. 3 teams tied at 63 percent
Blown saves5 5
Earned runs allowed1522
Base on balls1729
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