04/11/2013 3:08 AM ET
Wilhelmsen isn't taking anything for granted
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- Tom Wilhelmsen, the former prospect who was out of baseball tending bar and made it back to the Major Leagues, is now the Mariners' unquestioned closer. After sticking with the club all of last year, taking over as the ninth-inning man in early June and tying for seventh place in the American League with 29 saves, that much was a certainty when he entered Spring Training.
And while he might seem more comfortable and confident on the mound as a result of that earned status, Wilhelmsen said he's not really buying into it.
"I don't think just being the closer makes me more confident on the mound, but every successful outing does," said the right-hander, who has converted all three of his save opportunities thus far. "I mean, I'm just so darn stinking new at all of this -- not just closing. Being in pro ball. Being in the Major Leagues. And now closing. Plus we have young, hot arms in our organization who could take over if I slip up and lose focus. I just have to keep doing what I've always done, no matter what the role."
Pitching coach Carl Willis said Wilhelmsen's 95-mph fastball and 12-to-6 curve make him qualified for the job, but his unconventional road to the big leagues, in which he was out of professional ball for five years, probably has helped with his outlook on the mound.
"You go back to the very beginning of his Major League career, and he's a lot more confident now, a lot more loose," Willis said. "And a lot of us have never really been outside baseball. He has. He's seen the other side of things. He's gotten that perspective.
"So he can blow a save now and he knows it's not the end of the world. It hurts, and you evaluate it for a couple hours, but then you move on to the next day. He's good at that."
Wilhelmsen said he swears he doesn't treat closing differently from starting or middle-relief roles, all of which he's dabbled in during his journey.
"Everyone is trying to convince me that it's a different beast, the last inning," Wilhelmsen said. "And maybe it is, but it hasn't changed my mentality."
Saunders likely to hit DL with shoulder sprain
SEATTLE -- Mariners right fielder Michael Saunders was removed from Wednesday night's series finale with the Astros because of a right shoulder sprain that will likely land him on the 15-day disabled list.
Saunders injured his shoulder slamming into the right-field wall while making a catch in the first inning.
Jose Altuve led off the game with the deep fly ball off Mariners right-hander Blake Beavan, and Saunders retreated to the wall and made an impressive catch, but his shoulder caught the wall flush. Saunders dropped to the ground, where he laid for several minutes while being attended by the team's medical staff.
Jason Bay replaced Saunders in the outfield and in the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Saunders was diagnosed with the sprain and will be re-examined by team medical director Dr. Edward Khalfayan. The Mariners said he is "expected to miss some time." For comparison, former Mariners outfielder Mike Carp also suffered a shoulder sprain while diving for a ball in the outfield on March 29 last season during the Mariners' Opening Day game against the A's in Japan. Carp didn't return to the Mariners until May 1.
In the meantime, the Mariners have a few options at Triple-A Tacoma, such as former Mariners outfielders Endy Chavez, Eric Thames and Carlos Peguero.
LaFromboise impresses in big league debut
SEATTLE -- Bobby LaFromboise made his Major League debut by striking out two Astros in a perfect ninth inning in the Mariners' 8-3 loss on Wednesday night, quite an entrance for the 26-year-old left-handed sidearmer.
LaFromboise was called up from Triple-A Tacoma after Tuesday night's 16-9 loss to the Houston Astros in which several relievers were taxed in extra duty. There was plenty of emotion to go around when he got the call from Tacoma manager Daren Brown after the Rainiers' victory in Sacramento on Tuesday night.
"About 12:15 [a.m.]," said LaFromboise, whom the Mariners selected in the eighth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and pitched to a combined 1.36 ERA in 66 1/3 innings in Double-A and Triple-A last year. "I was just hanging out with a couple of roommates and friends. It was a big shock to me."
LaFromboise immediately went down to his own hotel room and called his father, Joe, a tire salesman in Covina, Calif.
"I couldn't get through it," LaFromboise said. "Teared up. And then I had to talk to my mom, and that was worse. Because it's Mom. It was just a great feeling to be able to make that phone call to them, and say, 'Hey, I made it.'"
LaFromboise said Mariners manager Eric Wedge congratulated him and offered him a reminder. "It's the same game," LaFromboise said. "It's still 60 feet, six inches. Just go out and do what I do."
The Mariners optioned to Tacoma lefty reliever Lucas Luetge to make room on the roster for LaFromboise. But Wedge said it wasn't because the team is disappointed in Luetge, who pitched a career-high three innings on Tuesday night and gave up two runs on five hits.
"It was nothing, really, in regards to Lucas," Wedge said. "It was just he had options, and he threw three innings last night, and we needed another arm. When you have a night like last night, it's not just about the next day, but it could potentially even go longer than that."
Maurer is rolling with the punches
SEATTLE -- Rookie Brandon Maurer had a rough Tuesday night, giving up six runs on seven hits in two-thirds of an inning in his second Major League start and taking a line drive off his right thigh that had the team's medical staff a bit concerned.
On Wednesday afternoon, he had a good amount of gauze covering up his bruise, but his leg and ego seemed to be OK.
"Just flush that one down and go out there and do it again next time," he said.
Manager Eric Wedge said the team is not considering removing Maurer, who made the team out of Spring Training after pitching in Double-A last year, from the rotation. Pitching coach Carl Willis said he would discuss things with Maurer, who also struggled in his big league debut, allowing six runs on eight hits in six innings in Oakland.
"In reviewing the video, a lot of pitches in the center of the plate," Willis said. "I think we saw in Spring Training a little better command. I don't think it's anything mechanical as much as I think it's his first couple Major League starts, him being maybe a little more intense.
"Basic things. Nothing earth-shattering. He still needs to get his feet on the ground a little bit."
• Wedge said he wished the best for outfielder Casper Wells, who was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday. Wells was the final cut of Spring Training, losing out to veteran outfielder Jason Bay.
"He's a good guy," Wedge said. "Any time a guy gets an opportunity to go somewhere else, I wish him the very best. But we really like who we have here, and what our future holds, and we feel good about our ballclub. It's just going to take a little time to settle in. It's all part of things you have to go through early in the year."
• Michael Morse got his first day off of the season on Wednesday, but Wedge said he'd be back in the lineup Thursday.
"He needs a day off," Wedge said. "You're not going to open up and have him play 14 days in a row. It's not right, it's not fair. Ultimately, you're going to put him in harm's way."
• Willis said he would talk to reliever Kameron Loe about honing his sinker, which has been up in the zone. Loe has given up six home runs in 6 2/3 innings this season.
"We can have a conversation about it, which I think we will," Willis said.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.