Wilhelmsen happy to be contributing out of 'pen

Wilhelmsen happy to be contributing out of 'pen

HOUSTON -- With Fernando Rodney firmly installed as the Mariners closer this year, Tom Wilhelmsen hadn't picked up a save since losing that job 11 months ago, until he finished out Monday's 10-4 victory over the Astros with three strong innings.

As per MLB rules, if a reliever finishes off a victory with three or more effective innings, he's awarded a save no matter what the score is and Wilhelmsen filled that bill. And the big right-hander relished the chance to continue contributing to a bullpen that ranks first in the American League with a 2.59 ERA entering Tuesday.

"Yeah, it feels good to do your job," Wilhelmsen said. "To do your job and get a win is what we're here for. It's why we play."

Wilhelmsen is becoming an increasingly versatile option for manager Lloyd McClendon, who has used him in two three-inning situations in the last six days. Wilhelmsen has delivered, posting a 1.87 ERA over his last 10 outings with just four runs and 10 hits in 19 1/3 frames to lower his season mark to 2.60 in a team-high 45 relief innings.

"He's done a nice job," McClendon said. "We've run him out there several times, two or three innings, and he seems to handle it. He's strong. It doesn't affect him, he bounces back, and it's been big for us because it's given us an opportunity to use other guys in different fashions at different times."

Wilhelmsen said pitching coach Rick Waits asked if he'd be okay throwing another inning after he'd shut out the Astros in the seventh and eighth on Monday and he happily agreed. Pitching longer stints has led to a slightly different approach that could help the hard-throwing right-hander in the long run.

"Maybe there is a little adjustment," Wilhelmsen said. "I'm trying really hard not to overthrow and really work on location, throwing more quality pitches to get ground balls and outs so my pitch count can stay somewhat low. I try not to think about it too much, really. Just throwing strikes."

The result is an increasingly versatile bullpen in which any number of relievers are helping set up Rodney, who heads into Tuesday's game tied for first in the American League with 23 saves.

"It's a good recipe right now," Wilhelmsen said.

And he's been a main ingredient.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.