SEATTLE -- Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, sidelined since April 11 with a hyperextended elbow, has been cleared to begin playing catch Friday after being reexamined by the club's doctors Tuesday.
Wilhelmsen will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Saturday, but likely will need at least another two weeks until he'll be ready to pitch again. Manager Lloyd McClendon said the hope is for the big right-hander to throw a bullpen at some point during the Mariners' next road trip, which starts Monday in Texas, as he begins the return process.
Given he's pitched in just two games, throwing 2 2/3 innings the first week of the season, the 31-year-old presumably will need a short Minor League rehab stint once he's cleared to pitch in games before rejoining the Mariners.
"I would venture to say he'll probably need an inning or two just to get sharp again," McClendon said.
Wilhelmsen was a key member of last year's bullpen when he posted a 2.27 ERA over 79 1/3 innings in 57 appearances, including two spot starts. McClendon lauded his value as a versatile reliever who could help cover innings when starters struggled and allow the other relievers to stay in their normal late-inning roles.
So with several starters struggling to go deep into games early this season, Wilhelmsen clearly has been missed. But McClendon said it'll take more than Wilhelmsen to shore up that situation.
"When you talk about bridging that gap, that didn't happen very often and that's why he was very effective at it," McClendon said. "But if he's out there twice a week doing that, it's not going to be pretty. And that goes for any bullpen. We have a good bullpen, but if your starters don't give you quality innings, your bullpen is not going to look good."
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.