By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
BALTIMORE — When the Seattle Mariners find themselves in another save situation, Tom Wilhelmsen won’t be taking the mound for them to secure the win.
For the second time this season, Wilhelmsen has lost his closing job.
Acting manager Robby Thompson met with pitching coach Carl Willis before Friday’s game in Baltimore and made the decision to try someone other than Wilhelmsen in save situations.
“As of right now, maybe like we’ve done in the past, we’ll try to piece it together and match up,” Thompson said. “And we’ll go from there.”
Wilhelmsen was called on to pitch the ninth inning with a 7-2 lead Thursday against Boston. He faced four batters but got no outs. He walked the leadoff hitter, gave up a single and a double and then walked another batter. It set in motion the ninth-inning meltdown by the Mariners’ bullpen, leading to an improbable 8-7 loss.
“Those games that are like that and even in closer games where we’ve got the lead, we’ve got to try to find a way to win that ballgame,” Thompson said.
So now he will use right-handers Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina and lefties Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush.
It’s the same philosophy that manager Eric Wedge employed when he stripped Wilhelmsen of his closing duties on June 13, the day after imploding against the Houston Astros, giving up five runs on three hits with two walks in 2/3 of an inning.
It was the final straw in a bad run of pitching that started with a blown save in Cleveland when he dropped the final out of the game while trying to cover first base. He blew another save in Minnesota, picked up a few shaky saves and then blew two more leads. The Astros loss forced Wedge to take action.
Thompson’s decision wasn’t based solely on Wilhelmsen’s implosion on Thursday. No, Wilhelmsen had been skirting through trouble in even his best outings.
Still, in his last 10 appearances he’s notched six saves. But they’ve been shaky. In those 10 outings, only twice has he had clean innings, while allowing 11 hits and eight runs with nine walks over that span.
It’s a far cry from the Wilhelmsen that started the season. He was nearly flawless in his first 17 appearances. He saved 11 games and allowed one run in 18 innings. Opponents had just six hits in 65 plate appearances against him.
But the Wilhelmsen that has taken the mound the last few weeks has looked nothing like that. The current Wilhelmsen is tentative and unsure with his fastball, reluctant with his curveball while seeming to be in a perpetual state of discomfort on the mound.
“For me, watching him, he’s pitching with a little bit of a lack of confidence for me and he’s not pounding the strike zone,” Thompson said. “He’s not pounding it with fastballs like he did in the past, to get to his breaking ball, to get to that changeup.”
Wilhelmsen has a fastball that ranges from 95 to 100 mph. But right now, he can’t locate it.
The walks are indicative of that. And once he starts pitching from behind in counts, that hard fastball becomes more hittable if hitters can expect it.
“Tommy is a strong guy and strong-minded,” Thompson said. “I think he’ll be OK, but I think he needs to refocus and get his confidence back in that fastball.”