By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
HOUSTON — Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen collected his first save in more than 11 months Monday — and he did it the old-fashioned way: By pitching the final three innings in the Mariners’ 10-4 victory over Houston.
This reflects Wilhelmsen’s current status in the Mariners’ bullpen.
Monday marked the third time in his last seven appearances that Wilhelmsen worked three innings. He has pitched more than one inning in nine of his last 12 outings.
That’s quite a change from duty as the bullpen’s closer, a responsibility Wilhelmsen held for much of the two previous seasons.
“It’s great,” he insisted. “The team’s doing well. That’s all you can ask for. If me going out there and doing three (innings) gives other guys a day (off), then I’m happy to do it so they can do their role.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon points to Wilhelmsen as a key factor in the success of a unit that leads the American League with a 2.59 ERA while holding opponents to a league-low .219 batting average.
The league averages are 3.79 and .244.
“Wilhelmsen has been flourishing (in that role) for quite a while,” McClendon said. “He’s done a tremendous job for this team. He’s saved us time and time again. That’s why we’re where we are now.”
Much of the Mariners’ bullpen success can likely be traced to not being overworked. Only the Kansas City and Detroit have called on their relief corps for fewer innings.
The switch for Wilhelmsen roughly coincides with the Mariners’ success. He suffered a blown save and a loss on April 20 while pitching in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss in Miami.
The following night, Wilhelmsen pitched more than one inning for the first time this season. Since then, he has a 2.15 ERA in 24 appearances, while the bullpen, as a whole, has a 2.34 mark.
Wilhelmsen’s 45 innings are, by far, the most among the club’s relievers, but his overall ERA is down to 2.60.
“Maybe there is a little adjustment,” he agreed. “I’m trying really hard not to overthrow, and I’m working on location — trying to throw more quality pitches to get ground balls so my pitch count can stay somewhat low.
“I try not to think about it too much, really. Just keep throwing strikes.”
TheMariners set a franchise record for earned run average in a month by posting a 2.53 mark in June. Their previous best was 2.80 in July 1991, followed by 2.82 in May 2011 and 2.82 in July 2012.
Their 18-10 record in June was also their best record in 41 months, dating to an 18-9 mark in June 2007. The Mariners also led the majors in June run differential at plus-47.
Rookie center fielder James Jones pulled off a rare feat Monday by getting four hits and three steals in the 10-4 victory over the Astros.
That’s only happened once previously in Mariners’ history: Ichiro Suzuki on July 20, 2004 in a 9-7 loss to Boston at Safeco Field. Suzuki went 4-for-4 with four steals.
It also only happened one other time this season in the majors: Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon was 5-for-6 with three steals on May 3 in a 9-7 victory at Miami.
Two Tacoma radio stations are adding the Spanish audio feed on Mariners’ broadcasts for the remainder of the season: 1480 AM in Lakewood, and 92.1 FM in Tacoma.
Also joining the network: 1280 AM in Lacey, and 1490 AM in Bremerton.
Alex Rivera is the play-by-play voice for the broadcasts and is joined for select games by former Mariners second baseman Julio Cruz. Steve Guasch produces the broadcasts.
The Mariners entered Tuesday with a streak of 46 games without allowing an unearned run. … Mike Zunino leads all American League catchers with 12 homers. Brad Miller is tied for the lead among AL shortstops with eight homers. … Third baseman Kyle Seager had a 1.9 WAR (wins above replacement) rating for June. That matched Kansas City catcher Salvy Perez for the best mark in the majors among position players. … The Mariners are 26-4 when they get 10 or more hits in a game. Only Oakland, at 29-4, has a better winning percentage when getting at least 10 hits. … The Astros made a series of moves prior to the game. They recalled lefty reliever Kevin Chapman and outfielder Domingo Santana from Class AAA Oklahoma City. They also selected infielder Kike Hernandez from Oklahoma City. They cleared space by optioning infielder Jonathan Villar to Oklahoma City, designating right-handed reliever Jerome Williams for assignment and placing outfielder Dexter Fowler on the disabled list because of a strained right rib muscle.
The Mariners are likely to sign two of the top 20 international players when the signing period opens Wednesday, according to Baseball America analyst Ben Badler.
Venezuelan outfielder Brayan Hernandez, who is rated as the No. 3 overall international prospect. Sources have told The News Tribune that a tentative deal with Hernandez is already in place.
Dominican shortstop Christopher Torres, ranked as the No. 20 prospect. Baseball America said negotiations for Torres turned into a two-team race between the Yankees and Mariners. It said the Yankees, once viewed as heavy favorites, appear to have backed off.
It was 17 years ago today — July 2, 1997 — that Jeff Fassero became the first pitcher in Mariners history to get a base-hit when he had a bunt single in an 8-5 loss at San Diego.
Fassero’s single came against Joey Hamilton when he popped a bunt toward first base and beat it out. Fassero gave up seven hits and five runs in five innings and got the loss.