SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tom Wilhelmsen’s journey from Tucson bartender to Major League closer may yet feature the happy ending the once-seemingly inevitable made-for-TV movie would require.
Maybe, Wilhelmsen hopes, last season’s struggles – when he not only lost his job as closer but was sent for a few weeks to Class AAA Tacoma – were just a last little tension- building subplot.
“You never want to hear you are getting sent down,” said the 30-year-old Wilhelmsen, who was out of baseball working in a bar from 2004-08 before re-starting his career and then winning Seattle’s closing job in 2012. “But there is a reason for it all, and I was able to take a step back and analyze a little bit.”
And that analysis led to him developing a cut fastball – to go along with his four-seam fastball and curve – that he says has been the key to a good start to a spring he hopes leads to yet another career resurrection.
“I was having trouble throwing strikes with my off-speed stuff and (the cutter) was supposed to be a little bit easier to throw for a strike,” said Wilhelmsen.
So far, so good as Wilhelmsen has allowed just a .182 average with only one walk and six strikeouts while facing 23 batters in five games.
“He’s throwing as good as anybody in camp,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You are seeing the big arm, all the pitches. Everything is working great.”
Wilhelmsen isn’t yet ready to proclaim himself completely fixed, saying “it’s been five games in spring.” But he adds that when he’s needed the cutter “it’s there. I’ve thrown it for a strike. So I’ll roll with it.”
M’s, Rockies tie
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez allowed two hits and an unearned run in four innings on Friday night as the Mariners tied a Colorado Rockies split squad 2-2 in 10 innings in Scottsdale, Ariz.
In line for a team-record seventh opening-day start, Hernandez struck out two and overcame brief control issues in the second when he gave up his lone walk.
Stefan Romero hit a solo homer in the first, and Brad Miller tripled and scored in the third for Seattle. Those were the only hits against Rockies starter Franklin Morales, who struck out four in four innings as he contends for the fifth spot in the rotation.
N.L. batting champion Michael Cuddyer went 2 for 3 for Colorado and scored on Jack Reinheimer’s throwing error in the second.