Within an hour of his latest attempt to hold down the ninth inning of a tight Seattle Mariners lead, closer Tom Wilhelmsen stormed into the home clubhouse and tried to sum up his Wednesday night performance in a single word.
The word was not pretty. But it rhymed.
Wilhelmsen (aka “The Bartender” for his previous night job) might not have needed the help of a thesaurus to describe a ninth inning that saw him surrender five runs off three hits and a pair of intentional walks – the only was by way of a sacrifice bunt – but he may soon be seeking a new job description.
After the Houston Astros ended 17 innings of offensive futility with the most productive ninth inning the Mariners have yielded in more than seven years, Wilhelmsen’s closer role felt a little bit like a glass house – and there were plenty of Mariners fans digging for rocks as of Thursday morning.
Wilhelmsen’s second blown save in less than two weeks left him with a 19.29 ERA this month. The 29-year-old closer has allowed at least one run in four of his six June appearances. That’s 10 runs in 4 2/3 innings worked by a closer who was basically unhittable for most of the first two months of the season.
In the minutes that followed the latest blowup, Mariners manager Eric Wedge was not exactly giving his closer a full vote of confidence when he said: “Tom Wilhelmsen is still our closer, standing here right now. But the game just got over.”
Wedge didn’t blink when asked about the possibility of changing closers, a subject from which he knows he can’t hide. Wedge said he’ll use Thursday’s off day to discuss the subject, and he doesn’t want to make any rash decisions.
“You’ve got to be careful,” he said Wednesday. “Anytime you make a decision like that, you make sure it’s the right one moving forward – because you’re not going to be bouncing back and forth.”
Right-handed flame-thrower Carter Capps seems to be an option if the Mariners move past Wilhelmsen — but he’s just 22, and opposing hitters are batting .364 against Capps this month. Fellow fastball specialist Stephen Pryor is still trying to come back from a torn lat muscle that landed him on the disabled list, and the other candidates in Seattle’s bullpen – Oliver Perez, Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina among them – appear to be suffering from overuse.
Wilhelmsen himself can’t explain what’s been going on lately. He said he “felt great” during Wednesday’s ninth, and yet the coldest offensive team in baseball suddenly turned into a fireball of run production while Wilhelmsen struggled to find a hose.
The closer had a simple solution for his June struggles, sounding a bit like a bankrupt realtor late Wednesday when he said: “Just have to find better location.”
Not even Wedge can explain how a pitcher who held opposing hitters to a .111 batting average in April and May has now allowed 15 of the 28 batters he’s faced in June to reach base.
Finding a way to get Wilhelmsen back on course is only part of Wedge’s issue as the Mariners embark on a seven-game road trip. What may be an even bigger task if figuring out what to do if he can’t.
“It’s a tough role, obviously,” Wedge said. “… We’ll get him back on track.”
If it doesn’t happen soon, what was one of the most dependable closers in baseball could soon be looking for a new word to describe his role with the Mariners.