Long shot Wilhelmsen still hanging around

Long shot Wilhelmsen still hanging around

Long shot Wilhelmsen still hanging around
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Tom Wilhelmsen continues to be the long-shot story of Mariners camp, as the 27-year-old right-hander who has never been above Class A ball in the Minor Leagues remains in the hunt for a bullpen spot.

The Mariners sent three veteran relievers down to their Minor League camp over the weekend, with Wilhelmsen one of two candidates fighting for the final relief roles available. At this point, it appears the final spot will go to either Wilhelmsen or left-hander Cesar Jimenez, who is on the 40-man roster, but has not had a good spring.

Wilhelmsen was out of baseball for five years before signing with Seattle last year. But while he posted good numbers in Rookie League ball and then with Everett and Clinton in Class A, nobody expected he could make the leap to the Major Leagues this spring.

"I am very excited," Wilhelmsen said. "I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I'm making it tough for them. All I can do is throw my best and keep the ball low."

The hard-throwing right-hander ignored a little flap in his eighth-inning appearance Sunday, when Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre was ejected shortly after he took the mound, then took a long time clearing out of the dugout while the game ground to a halt.

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"It didn't affect me too much," said Wilhelmsen, who promptly pitched a 1-2-3 frame to lower his spring ERA to 2.70. "It just gave me a little more time to control my breathing. I knew what was going on, but I didn't know it was Beltre. He just took his sweet time."

Manager Eric Wedge said it was more proof of the youngster's poise.

"You've got to like his stuff, you've got to like his arm," Wedge said. "That was another test today with whatever that was going on when he was out there. Having to wait around a little bit, and keep himself together and refocus and go out and pitch ... it's not your prototypical situation, but still something he had to overcome, and he did."

Said Wilhelmsen: "I've never dealt with anything like that before, but it wasn't anything big or serious. I just came back in and threw strikes."

Wilhelmsen said his changeup has improved dramatically this spring, which keeps hitters from being able to sit on his upper-90s fastball.

"All last year I threw the change maybe a total of a dozen times. I had no confidence in it," he said. "I played in the Fall League and rarely threw it then. But early in camp it was just starting to come, and the past few outings it's really taken hold of itself."