Eh, not quite.
With the rearrangement of the Mariners starting rotation, today’s Thursday start was left open. Manager Lloyd McClendon elected to skip Felix Hernandez’s Thursday start in lieu of a Friday matchup against the Athletics and their new ace Jeff Samardzija.
Instead of calling up a Triple-A arm for the rotation, the Mariners sent down Taijuan Walker– speculation is abounding– and called up Stephen Pryor to the bullpen. Pryor has been injured and rehabbing since early last season.
So the 25-man roster was full, but the decision hadn’t yet been made on today’s starter.
Yesterday McClendon announced that Tom Wilhelmsen would get the spot-start on Thursday in a bullpen bonanza against the Minnesota Twins. Wilhelmsen, who has a 1-1 record with a 2.49 ERA on the season, has never started a game in his Major League career.
In 2012 “the Bartender” was a revelation for the Seattle Mariners out in the bullpen, midseason becoming the closer and notching 29 saves with a 2.50 ERA. He had a 1.8 WAR on the season. Then, in 2013, he managed 24 saves but imploded, his control diminished and his ERA ballooning to 4.12. In 2013 he struck out 45 batters in 59.0 innings pitched, but also walked 33 batters in the same span.
This season, as a middle reliever with the pressure squarely off of his shoulders, Wilhelmsen has improved considerably. In 47.0 innings pitched he has struck 40 batters. And even though he has still managed to walk 20, his control and command of the strikezone have improved dramatically.
With 47.0 innings over 33 appearances, Wilhelmsen averages less than 2 innings per outing, leading to the obvious expectation by the Skipper that Tom go two or three or four innings before getting pulled for the rest of the best bullpen in baseball. Pryor was called up to help shore up the pitching, as a stop-gap between the Twins and Athletics series.
What may come of this move and decision?
Frankly, not very much. Wilhelmsen will remain in the bullpen, where he belongs. Even if he goes 5 perfect innings, he will end up back in the ‘Pen when the A’s fly in on Friday.
The only major question is what happens to Taijuan Walker. As JJ speculated yesterday, the Mariners may be in a position to trade for David Price or Ben Zobrist of the Rays. I personally think both of those trades would be stupid.
But if a trade for Price were to go through, it would inevitably include Walker. So if Walker doesn’t get called back up by his next turn in the rotation, does that mean he is set to get shipped elsewhere?
I sincerely hope not, but the Mariners seem to want to win now, despite the price tag (no pun intended) that would come with such substantial moves.