BY John Hickey 06:07PM 03/22/2011

Wilhelmsen makes push for bullpen job

With a three-strikeout inning of perfect relief, inexperienced reliever may have moved a little closer to making the big league roster.

Mariner right-handed Tom Wilhelmsen is trying to force his way into the Seattle opening day bullpen. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The Mariners won their third consecutive game and stretched their Cactus League record to 13-7 Wednesday afternoon with starter Felix Hernandez throwing five innings in his next-to-last start of the Cactus League.

The big news coming out of the game, however, was the performance of right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen. The 6-foot-6 reliever pitched the seventh inning, faced three batters and struck out all three.

He has a 2.57 ERA this spring, and while he was originally ticketed to start the season at Triple-A Tacoma or maybe even Double-A Jackson, TN., he’s made a strong case for himself to be a member of the Seattle bullpen.

“He’s been throwing the ball well,’’ Mariner Eric Wedge told the Seattle media Tuesday after the game. “He’s got to work ahead and stay ahead better. He’s got a live arm and his secondary stuff is good.

“We’re getting to the point not where we want all of our guys to locate a little bit better, put hitters more on the defense, work ahead and stay ahead. But I’ve been very impressed with him.’’

Wilhelmsen, who took five years off from baseball and only got back into the game when Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik signed him after Wilhelmsen had shown himself well in independent ball with Tucson in 2009, has never pitched above Class-A baseball.

“You wouldn’t know that he was in A-ball last year by the way he handles himself,’’ Wedge said. “I like his presence on the mound and having a good pace on the mound.’’

In the wake of a 9-5 win Wednesday over the Chicago White Sox in Peoria, AZ., Wedge was equally delighted with the performance of Hernandez. He reached his pitch limit (79; he was scheduled for about 80) in five innings and is on pace to go to 90 pitches in his next start Sunday.

The Mariners play Texas that day, so there’s a decent chance that Hernandez, who is scheduled to face Oakland and Texas in his first two starts of the year, might pitch in a minor league game that day.

“Felix got better as he kept going on,’’ Wedge said. “He did a good job utilizing all his pitches. It’s not a bad thing to get (Hernandez’s pitch count) built up; it was a good day. We’ll extend him next time.’’

The Mariners got 11 hits in the win over the White Sox, one by each of 11 different hitters. Milton Bradley drove in Ichiro Suzuki with a single in the first, and with the Mariners down 2-1 in the fourth Chone Figgins had a two-run single.

Two innings later Seattle hitters put together three hits and two walks, meshing that with a Chicago error to score four runs to break the game open. Mike Wilson had an RBI double, Chris Gimenez an RBI single and Matt Tuiasosopo a two-run double.

NOTES: Wednesday’s game is against the Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale at the unusual starting time of 6:40 p.m. and will be televised by FSN Northwest/Root Sports. … Earlier in the day, however, catcher Miguel Olivo and Chris Gimenez and left-handed starter Jason Vargas will take part in an intrasquad game at 11 a.m. For Olivo, it will be a three-inning stint, and it will be his first game since suffering a strained groin earlier this month.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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