By Brent Stecker
Things have gone from bad to worse for the Mariners over the last week, and a big reason for the team's May and June swoon is a lack of consistency in the bullpen.Even the lowest of the low in Major League Baseball have a pitcher to turn to in the ninth inning, as Prospect Insider's Jason Churchill told 710 ESPN Seattle's "Wyman, Mike and Moore," but the recent struggles of closer Tom Wilhelmsen, which have subsequently thrown off the entire Mariners relief staff, have robbed Seattle of even that luxury.
Tom Wilhelmsen is "taking a break" from his closer duties after blowing five saves so far this season. (AP)
"It's the reason why they've lost five, six, seven games here in the last month or so, starting with that Cleveland series," said Churchill, referencing a devastating series sweep at the hands of a red-hot Indians team from May 17-20. "You can point to certain failures directly, (like) Wilhelmsen's struggles. I mean, most clubs, even clubs that are struggling to win games, have that guy to go to in the ninth inning that they can rely on, and Seattle obviously right now doesn't have that, and that's gonna hurt. That's gonna weaken every other spot in that bullpen."
The bullpen is also suffering from a void of veteran leadership.
"The problem is they don't have veterans to go to," Churchill said. "Oliver Perez is the veteran of that bullpen, and he's only been a pure relief pitcher for about a year and a half now. So you don't have that guy to go to, you don't have the Mariano Rivera, you don't have the Heath Bell, you don't have those guys that you can rely on that maybe have been through this before and can help the rest of that bullpen through it."
The hope in Seattle is that the 29-year-old Wilhelmsen (16 saves, five blown saves, 3.77 ERA, 22 strikeouts, 17 walks) will regain his control and reassume the closer role. But if he doesn't, a young player will likely be pressed into high-pressure situations.
"It's going to be interesting to see what happens if Wilhelmsen doesn't put it back together because Carter Capps (is a) young player, Stephen Pryor, when he comes back from the disabled list, he's still a young player, still has rookie status," said Churchill. "All these guys are young guys. Charlie Furbush has a year and a half or two under his belt, (and is) certainly not a guy you want to throw into the fire at closer. They just don't really have that calming effect down in the bullpen, that veteran."
And that may cause the Mariners to look elsewhere to solve their bullpen woes.
"It will be interesting to see if Jack Zduriencik doesn't try to go out and get a guy like that – not necessarily a closer but a guy that can help out in the seventh and eighth inning to kinda help these young guys get back on track instead of having to fight against themselves," Churchill said. "They don't really know what their role is at this point with Wilhelmsen struggling. Is (Yoervis) Medina the closer? Is Capps going to be the option in the ninth inning? Are they going to play matchup? That certainly makes it more difficult."