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Wilhelmsen regaining stride in setup role

ANAHEIM -- Tom Wilhelmsen isn't the Mariners closer anymore, but he figures to be a critical component again in Seattle's bullpen. Manager Lloyd McClendon used the big right-hander as his late-inning setup man in the team's first two games.

Wilhelmsen recorded four straight outs in the Opening Day win, inducing a flyout from Albert Pujols with two runners on to end the seventh and then zipping through Josh Hamilton, David Freese and Raul Ibanez.

Things didn't go quite as smoothly Tuesday, though he froze Mike Trout with a nasty third-strike curveball leading off the eighth, drawing an open-mouthed "wow" from the Angels star as he stared out at the mound.

"Froze me, too," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "That was a pretty good pitch."

Pujols then drove an 0-2 pitch down the left-field line for a double, and Wilhelmsen walked Hamilton and threw a pair of balls low to Freese before McClendon headed to the mound for a quick conversation. Wilhelmsen relaxed and got Freese to ground to short for what could have been an inning-ending double play, but second baseman Robinson Cano threw wide of first for an error as Pujols scored an unearned run.

"[Wilhelmsen] was being careful," McClendon said, "and I just went out there and reminded him, 'Look, you don't have to be careful with this guy. Your stuff is good. I'll take your stuff anytime. Pound the zone, get your ground ball,' and he did. Unfortunately we didn't turn the double play, but I thought it was a great outing by him. I thought it was a big outing. He really kept things where we wanted it to be and gave us a chance to match up."

Joe Beimel replaced Wilhelmsen at that point and picked off Freese to end the inning, and the Mariners tacked on a pair of runs in the ninth for an 8-3 win. For Wilhelmsen, it's good to be back in the thick of things after losing his job in the second half last year and spending time in Tacoma seeking answers.

"The confidence is there," Wilhelmsen said. "It's nice to be in those situations and come out on top. It's definitely good to keep the momentum going. I wasn't as sharp [Tuesday] as I wanted to be, but minimum damage and I made pitches when I really needed to. So that's something to look at, and we'll take it from there."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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