DETROIT — Tom Wilhelmsen and Prince Fielder had a pre-game reunion Tuesday, the first time the two had encountered each other on the field in years.
The Mariners reliever and Tigers first baseman were teammates on Miluwakee’s Class A team in Beloit.
“I was surprised he remembered me and came over to talk,” Wilhelmsen said. “He walked over and said, ‘Hey, I didn’t know you were a bar tender!’”
Wilhelmsen broke into the majors with Seattle last season and has become the Mariners primary setup man out of the bullpen. After years with the Brewers, Fielder wound up with the Tigers this year as a free agent.
“I remember a game when Prince swung so hard at a pitch he fell across the plate and landed on his side in the dirt,” Wilhelmsen said. “Pitchers don’t like that kind of swing.
“The next pitch knocked him on his back. Now he’s up there and his uniform is dirty front and back. The third pitch is below the knees and Prince killed it.
“We were in a ballpark where the scoreboard had flames coming out the top — and the ball landed on top of the scoreboard in those flames. It had to be a five billion to one shot,” Wilhelmsen said.
Michael Saunders hasn’t quite broken out in his first 15 games this season, but he’s no longer a singles hitter.
Given the chance to play with Franklin Gutierrez out, Saunders had 10 hits in his first 45 at-bats — five doubles and a home run.
Praise for Kawasaki
Manager Eric Wedge acknowledged Tuesday that the Mariners got more of a player in Japanese free agent Munenori Kawasaki than he’d expected.
“I didn’t know we were getting such a solid shortstop,” Wedge said. “I knew he played with a lot of energy, but he’s a better player than I realized. He’s also a student of the game.”
Kawasaki made a marvelous play in the hole against Ryan Raburn in the third inning, back-handing a ground ball and making a long, strong throw to first base.
Both first baseman Justin Smoak and shortstop Brendan Ryan were out of the lineup Tuesday because Wedge wanted to give each another day off. Both were physically cleared to play. … When Ichiro Suzuki popped out in the first inning — and Jesus Montero singled home a run — Montero caught him for the team RBI lead with nine. … Gutierrez remained in Arizona Tuesday, throwing from a distance of about 150 feet. Though he’s playing minor league intra-squad games, he’s facing pitchers who likely will start the year in rookie ball. Figure mid-late May for the Mariners center fielder.
Larry LaRue, The News Tribune