Tom Wilhelmsen’s unique storyline with the Mariners took a new turn on Wednesday as the former bartender-turned-closer re-signed with the club on a one-year deal and joined the team in Detroit.
Wilhelmsen had 67 saves and a 2.97 ERA in 267 appearances with Seattle from 2011-15 after making a comeback in baseball following a five-year stint out of the game, but struggled badly in Texas this year after being traded to the Rangers. He was released by Texas last week after declining an outright to Triple-A in a move that forfeited about $1.8 million in remaining salary this season.
“He’ll be active on the roster today,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We just want to get him back to where he was just last year. It’s not like we’re far removed from Tom Wilhelmsen being a very good Major League pitcher.
“Of all the offseason moves we made, trading Tom was one of the most difficult,” Dipto said. “He was a very stable and controllable bullpen guy. He’s comfortable here and we’re glad to get him back.”
To make room for Wilhelmsen, Seattle optioned right-hander Jonathan Aro to Triple-A Tacoma and transferred Charlie Furbush to the 60-day disabled list.
Wilhelmsen was traded to Texas along with outfielder James Jones and infielder Patrick Kivlehan in November in exchange for center fielder Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass. Kivlehan also has rejoined the Mariners, reacquired in a trade for reliever Justin DeFratus, while Bass was released and is pitching in Japan.
Wilhelmsen, 32, was the Mariners’ primary closer in 2012-13, saving a combined 53 games. He was 2-2 with 13 saves and a 3.19 ERA in 53 games with Seattle last season, but was 2-3 with a 10.55 ERA in 21 appearances for Texas.
“We feel it was some combination of confidence, command and pitch selection,” Dipoto said of Wilhelmsen’s difficulties in Texas. “I don’t know if we’re any more magical than the Rangers in tapping that, but Tom has worked well here before, his teammates trust him and all the staff and everyone who’ve worked with him for years really like him.
“In the world of veteran Major League pitchers who have well-above average stuff and has a [Minor League] option, it was kind of a no-brainer for us. He fits.”
Wilhelmsen could be optioned to the Minors by the Mariners, since he does have an option remaining and is on their 40-man roster. The Rangers designated him for assignment last week, taking him off their 40-man roster, and thus opening the door for him to decline their outright assignment to Triple-A after he cleared waivers.
The Mariners will open the 2016 season with 13 new players on their 25-man roster as general manager Jerry Dipoto finalized the club’s Opening Day plans on Sunday by placing pitchers Charlie Furbush and Evan Scribner on the 15-day disabled list, designating catcher Rob Brantly for assignment and reassigning four other players to Minor League camp.
Veteran right-handed reliever Joel Peralta (pictured) was selected from Triple-A Tacoma and added to the 40-man roster, the lone non-roster invitee who made the club.
None of the moves were unexpected as right-handed relievers Donn Roach and Blake Parker, first baseman Efren Navarro and outfielder Daniel Robertson – all non-roster invitees – were reassigned to the Minors. Brantly, who was on the 40-man roster, was DFA’d and the club now has 10 days to trade, release or outright him to the Minors.
Brantly, claimed off waivers three weeks ago from the White Sox, is out of Minor League options and must clear waivers in order for the Mariners to keep him.
The move with Brantly makes official the club’s decision to go with Steve Clevenger as the backup catcher. That was the only position battle still up in the air over the final week. Robertson played well all spring, but it was apparent from the start that he was on the outside of the number’s game in the outfield, while Navarro has been viewed as veteran insurance at first base.
Roach had an outstanding spring and emerged as a strong contender for a bullpen role, but his fate was sealed when Dipoto traded for Padres right-hander Nick Vincent on Thursday and said he’d fill the final relief opening.
Furbush is dealing with tendinitis in his left shoulder and Scribner has a strained right lat muscle. Both have been sidelined all spring and they’ll open the year on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 25, though neither is expected to be ready until May at the earliest.
With Sunday’s moves, the club will go into Monday’s 1:05 p.m. PT opener against the Rangers with this roster:
Starting pitchers: Right-handers Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Nathan Karns and left-hander Wade Miley.
Bullpen: Right-handers Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, Tony Zych, Joel Peralta and Vincent; and left-handers Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery.
Catchers: Chris Iannetta and Clevenger.
Infielders: Adam Lind, Robinson Cano, Ketel Marte, Kyle Seager, Dae-Ho Lee and Luis Sardinas.
Outfielders: Nelson Cruz, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez.
Of the newcomers, Dipoto traded for Miley, Karns, Benoit, Vincent, Clevenger, Lind, Sardinas and Martin, while signing Cishek, Iannetta, Aoki, Lee and Peralta as free agents.
Mariners left-hander Charlie Furbush will begin a series of blood injections called Regenokine therapy on Wednesday with the hope of speeding the healing process in his sore left shoulder, though the veteran reliever will start the season on the disabled list and is likely several months from being ready for games.
Furbush had a partial tear in his left rotator cuff last season, but doctors elected not to do surgery and just let the shoulder heal on its own. But after continued tightness in the left triceps area following his early throwing sessions this spring, the 29-year-old was shut down and says he’s probably three weeks or so from starting up a new throwing program.
The Regenokine therapy was used by Lakers star Kobe Bryant to help some knee issues several years ago, but Furbush doesn’t believe it’s been used much yet for Major League pitchers.
“It’s a series of injections to hopefully relieve everything,” he said. “We’ll give it a whirl. They brought it up, but it’s definitely something that other athletes have tried and seen some good results, so I’m hoping I’m part of that study.
“I don’t know of any other pitchers that have done it off the top of my head, but I don’t mind being one of the first if that’s the case.”
The procedure is similar to the more-commonly known platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy that other athletes have used to promote healing.
“Hopefully we get great results and I’ll be back on the mound in no time,” Furbush said. “I’m just eager to try something and see if I can relieve that last little bit and get over the hump. I was pretty close before and I got a little tightness. If I can get over that, I should be good to go.”
The Mariners were hoping Furbush could fill the role of left-handed setup man this season. He posted a 2.08 ERA while holding left-handed hitters to a .105 batting average in 33 outings last year before going on the disabled list on July 9.
With Furbush out, Vidal Nuno and converted starter Mike Montgomery will be the lefty relievers on the Opening Day roster. But Furbush hopes to rejoin the club as soon as he can build up his arm strength again.
“I’m just ready to help the team win,” he said. “Seeing spring go by, I’ve been champing at the bit to get back because I know I can get out there and get the job done. I just have to make sure I do everything right and try to maintain my health and get back on the field as soon as I can.”
Korean slugger Dae-Ho Lee was added to the Mariners’ 40-man roster on Sunday prior to an opt-out in the contract he signed in February, meaning it’s likely the 33-year-old has won the backup first base job for Seattle.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said “there is a good chance” Lee will be on the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, though Sunday’s decision only involved placing him on the 40-man Major League roster, which is now completely full.
The Mariners also informed veteran right-handed reliever Joel Peralta, another non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal, that he’ll be added to the 40-man roster as well, though technically that won’t happen until a spot is cleared.
Dipoto said there’d be no word on first baseman Jesus Montero’s situation until Monday. Montero left camp on Saturday and his locker is now cleared out, which indicates the club is likely waiting to see if he clears the 48-hour waiver window before finalizing his status.
Lee, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder who hit 31 home runs in Japan last year, showed enough in camp to warrant a spot on the club, according to Dipoto. The veteran has struggled at times against quality pitching in Cactus League games, but the Mariners feel he’ll be fine there and answered their questions in other areas by showing some surprising athleticism for a big man.
Lee and Stefen Romero are the two remaining right-handed hitting options at first base to platoon with lefty Adam Lind. Romero has had a strong camp, but he does have a Minor League option remaining.
“Dae-Ho has the history of hitting left-handers and I think he’s given us reason to believe in Spring Training,” Dipoto said. “He’s very prepared, very calm in the batter’s box and I think he’s gotten better every step of the way as we’ve gone along.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise – the defense and particularly the baserunning. He runs the bases really smart. His defense has been much better than we anticipated at first base and we do have confidence in his history of handling left-handed pitching, which is the role we’re trying to fill.”
Peralta, who just turned 40, earned a spot in the bullpen after an injury-shortened 2015 with the Dodgers when he posted a 4.34 ERA in 33 outings. He had a career 3.94 ERA in 589 outings for six different teams.
“Joel is a gamer,” Dipoto said. “He makes a difference in our clubhouse. I think Joel is a leader in the bullpen. He also showed physically, he’s been 90-92 [mph] all spring and his split-finger is a weapon. He’s a guy that gets righties and lefties out, kind of a reverse splits type, and especially in a bullpen that is going to start without Charlie Furbush, the idea that a Joel Peralta is capable of coming in and getting the better left-handed hitters in the league and having strikeout stuff really helps.”
Dipoto said he’s not sure how soon Furbush might be ready as the lefty will be undergoing a non-surgical medical procedure soon to help alleviate tightness in his throwing shoulder.
“Our hope is once we get him out there he can stay out there and we’re not in a rush for that to be Opening Day or April 15,” Dipoto said. “We’d just like it to be sooner rather than later.”
Recently signed Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia was among seven Mariners sent down to Minor League camp on Sunday as the club reduced its Spring Training roster to 51 players.
Heredia, 25, hasn’t played in the past two years due to his defection to Mexico, but is regarded as a speedy center fielder with a good glove. After spraining an ankle in his first week in camp, Heredia made his Cactus League debut on Friday with one inning on defense and then had two at-bats late in Saturday’s 8-4 loss to the Dodgers, going 0-for-1 with a sacrifice bunt.
Since he is on the 40-man roster, Heredia was officially optioned to Double-A Jackson. Six other non-roster invitees were reassigned to Minor League camp – left-handed reliever Paul Fry, catchers Marcus Littlewood and Steve Lerud, infielders Benji Gonzalez and Tyler Smith and outfielder Dario Pizzano.
Lerud, 31, is the only one in the group with Major League experience. He played nine games with the Phillies in 2012-13 and spent last year with the Nationals’ Triple-A Syracuse club before signing with Seattle as a Minor League free agent.
Fry, Littlewood, Gonzalez, Smith and Pizzano are all Mariners’ Minor Leaguers who were invited to camp this spring. Fry’s departure leaves Seattle with just three left-handed relievers in camp in Charlie Furbush, Vidal Nuno and David Rollins, though starter Mike Montgomery could be used in that role as well.
The club is now down to five catchers, with Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Mike Zunino, Steven Baron and newly-acquired Rob Brantly.
There are eight outfielders still competing for five spots – Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, Nelson Cruz, Stefen Romero, Boog Powell and non-roster invitee Daniel Robertson.
The Mariners now have 39 roster players, 10 non-roster invitees and two players on the 60-day disabled list still in Major League camp. They’ll need to get down to 25 before Opening Day on April 4 in Texas.
Danny Hultzen, on the comeback trail again, is hoping to get his first Cactus League action next week as he converts to a bullpen role. Here he’s throwing live batting practice to some Minor League hitters on Saturday.
A lot of people are eager to see Korean slugger Dae-Ho Lee, who is trying to win a job as the backup first baseman and DH.
The ever-ready Kyle Seager gets in his work at third base during infield drills.
Hisashi Iwakuma played catch on Saturday in preparation for his first Cactus League start Sunday against the Rangers in Surprise.
Hats off to Cody Martin, a right-hander from Gonzaga University who pitched for the Braves and A’s last season.
Robinson Cano says he’s feeling “way, way better” physically this spring and his early play has backed that up.
Young shortstop Ketel Marte fields a grounder during infield work.
Former big-league pitcher Pete Harnisch, now a special assistant in player development, makes a point to right-hander Cody Parker after a bullpen session.
Old friend Jamie Moyer arrived in camp as a guest instructor and immediately went to work with some tips after Cody Martin threw a bullpen session.
New first baseman Adam Lind soaks up another 85-degree day in Peoria.
Former Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus is one of several veterans fighting for bullpen spots in what looks to be a most-interesting competition this spring.
Nelson Cruz knows what to do with his glove when he’s not in right field.
You Tube baseball comic Domingo Ayala had fun at Mariners camp on Tuesday …
… and Ayala shared some of his bling with Kyle Seager.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. chats with starter Wade Miley.
Franklin Gutierrez is quietly going about his business .. and staying healthy to date .. and will start at DH in the Mariners’ Cactus League opener on Wednesday.
Catcher Steve Clevenger, acquired from the Orioles this offseason, has been one of the many friendly new faces in camp.
The Mariners held their first full-squad workout in Peoria, Ariz., on Thursday. Here are some scenes from around camp …
New left fielder Nori Aoki went about his business on his first day.
Things were looking up for Robinson Cano, who says he’s ready to get off to a fast start after offseason surgery to repair a double hernia.
You want to talk about hitting? Try listening in to this conversation between a pair of Mariners Hall of Famers, Edgar Martinez and Alvin Davis.
Big Korean slugger Dae Ho Lee said it’s his “dream come true” to try out for a Major League club. He’s competing for a backup first base job at age 33.
Kyle Seager is ready for action at third base.
Veteran outfielder Seth Smith said everybody was excited for this camp because of the new staff, players and front-office.
Good buddies Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez shared a hug before workouts began.
New first baseman Adam Lind is among the position players taking part in early workouts before the full-squad practices begin on Thursday.
Manager Scott Servais gives some individual attention to right-hander Donn Roach, a non-roster invitee who pitched for the Cubs last year, while catcher Mike Zunino listens in.
New closer Steve Cishek and his side-arm delivery.
Bullpen coach Mike Hampton, a 16-year Major League veteran who started his playing career with the Mariners in 1993, makes a point during Tuesday’s practice.
Danny Hultzen, trying to make the transition to the bullpen this year, could be one of the more interesting stories in baseball if he can make the comeback after three seasons with major shoulder problems. I wrote this story about him today.
Outfielder Stefen Romero is getting some work at first base as well this spring.
Shortstop Ketel Marte arrived at camp on Tuesday and is ready to assume the role of starting shortstop. You can read that story here.
Felix Hernandez listens to bench coach Tim Bogar as the pitchers went through fielding drills on the practice fields at Peoria.
Catcher Mike Zunino, geared up and ready for action.
While my main duty at MLB.com is to provide stories for Mariners.com, I enjoy taking photos during Spring Training as well. So as often as possible — or when I get a few in focus — I’ll put up some pics here on the blog over the next few weeks. Here’s a little of what’s going on the first weekend at camp.
Minor League catching coordinator Dan Wilson and new Mariners skipper Scott Servais keep a keen eye on the action in the bullpen.
One of the things catchers are focusing on more this year is pitch framing. Here’s Mike Zunino keeping it square in the middle of the plate in a drill with a pitching machine.
Wade Miley, acquired by trade from the Red Sox, will be one of the key newcomers in the rotation.
Former Cubs reliever Blake Parker, one of several veterans in camp on non-roster invites, takes a minute to make a couple fans happy.
Alvin Davis, who’ll forever be known as Mr. Mariner, is in camp once again working as a Minor League roving instructor.
Nathan Karns, another of the offseason trade acquisitions from Tampa Bay, looked strong in his first bullpen session on Sunday.
Reliever Jonathan Aro and catcher Steve Clevenger, two more newcomers, shake hands after a throwing session. Aro was acquired from the Red Sox and Clevenger from the Orioles.
And, yes, there are still some familiar faces in camp, including the King.