Tom Wilhelmsen, Maybe a Starter
Tom Wilhelmsen was optioned to Tacoma after last night’s game. Today, Tom Wilhelmsen is starting for the Tacoma Rainiers. These two things are related.
Wilhelmsen has obviously struggled this year, primarily with his command, but there are enough bullpen innings to go around that he could work on things in Seattle if they wanted him to. They’ve already done that earlier in the season, in fact. However, by optioning him to Tacoma, they’ve opened up a new path, and that potential opportunity begins today.
Per Greg Johns on Twitter:
#Mariners will let Wilhelmsen throw a few innings today. Not saying they're making him a starter yet, but want to see him in that situation.
— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) August 6, 2013
They’re not committing to Wilhelmsen as a starting pitcher. He’s only going to throw two innings today, and then they’ll re-evaluate from there. If he does well, he’ll probably get another start, and maybe go three innings in that one. If he bombs out, maybe this ends up being nothing.
But there are reasons to think that maybe this might work. Tom Wilhelmsen’s secondary stuff consists of a curveball and a change-up, both pitches that historically do pretty well against opposite handed hitters. He’s shown a bit of a platoon split in relief, but nothing too extreme. He’s not Carter Capps. His stuff works against left-handed batters, at least when he’s throwing strikes.
As a starter, working multiple innings, Wilhelmsen will almost certainly lose velocity. He won’t be able to throw in the high-90s for extended periods, so his fastball will probably settle in more around 93-96. There is some evidence that it is easier to throw 93 in the zone than 98 in the zone. It is possible that a reduction in velocity could actually help Wilhelmsen throw more strikes, which is his primary problem at the moment. While the strikeouts will go down, the walks very well may go down too, and it’s entirely possible that Wilhelmsen will be more effective as a mid-90s starter than a high-90s reliever.
It’s an experiment worth trying, I think. The raw stuff is there for Wilhelmsen to be a solid starting pitcher. His health was a concern after they signed him following his long layoff, but he hasn’t really battled any issues the last few years, and stretching him out now will give them a chance to see if he can maintain his velocity while throwing more pitches. If he can, and if the reduction in velocity helps him throw more strikes, then he could potentially be a rotation option for 2014.
Of course, he could bomb out as a starter too, and this might not end up going anywhere. If it doesn’t work, the Mariners can try him in relief again. No harm, no foul. It’s worth a try, though, and I’m glad to see the organization looking to see if perhaps this move might help him get back on track.