The Mariners bullpen has been one of the more frustrating parts of this season. They looked solid enough on paper, with a couple young flamethrowers and a tactful lefty — Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps and Oliver Perez — primed to hold down the fort until the ninth, when closer Tom Wilhelmsen would take the hill.
But that paper caught fire — and not the good kind — en route to a handful of changes. Injuries, struggles and demotions tore the pen apart, and in turn lost many a winnable game for the Mariners. One of the biggest blows is that of Wilhelmsen’s struggles following what looked like a breakout season that could cement him as one of the better relievers in the league. Tom finished the year with a 2.50 ERA and a 2.89 FIP, with 29 saves in 34 opportunities.
Wilhelmsen started out well enough this year, with a 0.75 ERA and around a 2.60 FIP through May. But that is when it all fell apart, and his ERA and FIP ballooned up to 10.97 and 6.13 for the month of June. Tom has been up and down since, never really finding his stride for a long period of time. He now sits with a 4.37 ERA and 3.76 FIP.
And apparently the team has seen enough of Tom for the time being, and he was just demoted to AAA Tacoma, trading spots with fellow struggling reliever, Carter Capps.
But the most interesting part of this is that is appears The Bartender will be looked at as a starter for the Rainiers, as he will take the hill first on Tuesday, and likely be relieved by James Paxton after a couple innings. There is no guarantee that this is the route the M’s are wanting to take with Tom, and they could just be experimenting to try to see what they can do to get Tom and his curveball going again.
I personally don’t see Tom finding any more success as a starter than he did as a reliever. The fact is, a lot of relievers are where they are because they could not hack it as a starter. That isn’t always the case, but I would venture to guess that it happens more often than not.
Tom does have great stuff, and has been great in the pen before. But if he keeps pitching like this — striking out just 6.65 per nine, while walking 4.94 — then I have my doubts about a transition to the rotation. But time will tell.