Mariners’ Taijuan Walker could start next Thursday; Tom Wilhelmsen likely headed for Triple-A

Jun 22, 2016, 5:13 PM | Updated: Jun 23, 2016, 1:08 pm
Taijuan Walker will throw a bullpen session this weekend to gauge his readiness to start next Thurs...
Taijuan Walker will throw a bullpen session this weekend to gauge his readiness to start next Thursday. (AP)

DETROIT – Early morning moves bring answers, and some questions, to the Mariners’ pitching situation.

Tom Wilhelmsen is with the club having arrived in Detroit Tuesday night. Wade LeBlanc is not on the 25- or 40-man roster but will be making the start Friday in place of Taijuan Walker. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto did some juggling to acquire the two pitchers and more juggling will be required to get LeBlanc on the roster.

“We had to bring it together very quickly,” Dipoto said. “Tom had to get on a plane yesterday in order that he could be here in time to fit in with all of the other roster moves we were making. We did send Jonathan Aro out (to Triple-A) last night to make room for Tom. There are other things that have to happen in 72 hours or so. There’s a little bit of a circus going on right now. We are going to have to make the roster work.”

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Wilhelmsen most likely will not pitch Wednesday unless there is an emergency situation as the last time he took the mound in a ballgame was June 13. In order for the Mariners to send Wilhelmsen to the minors to get work, he must first clear waivers. If he does as expected, he could be sent to Tacoma on Friday, opening a spot for LeBlanc. If the Mariners decide to place Walker on the disabled list between now and then, however, there is a chance Wilhelmsen could remain with the big club.

According to Dipoto, Walker is scheduled to play catch Friday, throw a bullpen over the weekend and then if all goes well he would make his next start Thursday against the Orioles. The “if all goes well” is key.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed,” Dipoto said.

If Wilhelmsen is sent down for work, the hope is he will not be there very long. Dipoto has seen him at both his best and his worst and believes they have a shot at getting him back to form after a disastrous tenure with the Rangers.

“We have the chance at getting him back on line,” Dipoto said. “Tom has not lost any velocity. He still has the spin rate on his curveball. We feel that the combination of maybe confidence and pitch selection, getting him in a comfortable environment where he feels welcome and wanted (will help). Physically he is still very capable. We just have to tap into that.”

As for Friday’s starter, LeBlanc, Dipoto has history with him having had him on his staff in Anaheim in 2014. LeBlanc, who pitched in Japan in 2015 and held an International League-low 1.17 ERA pitching for Buffalo this season, had a June 15 out in his contract that Dipoto was aware of. With the starting rotation “leaking oil,” in his words, Dipoto checked in with Toronto a week ago. When the more immediate need arose for Seattle, the deal got done quickly.

“He’s pitching as well as anyone in Triple-A,” Dipoto said. “Wade has always been the same guy. He’s not going to overpower you with the fastball, but he’s got a terrific changeup he will throw in any count and he’s got a really good cutter. We felt for our needs we could trust him to go out and throw strikes. He has a history in the big leagues, he’s been a positive WAR player throughout his career and a former high-round draft pick who’s always performed. He just doesn’t throw real hard.”

So for now, the Mariners have a week’s worth of starters with Adrian Sampson, LeBlanc, Nathan Karns, James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma going in that order. Beyond that, we shall see.

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Mariners’ Taijuan Walker could start next Thursday; Tom Wilhelmsen likely headed for Triple-A