Wilhelmsen nears return to Mariners' bullpen

Wilhelmsen nears return to Mariners' bullpen

ANAHEIM -- Tom Wilhelmsen threw 25 pitches in a simulated game situation on Wednesday at Angel Stadium as the big right-hander moved closer to returning to the Mariners after 25 days on the disabled list with a hyperextended right elbow.

The Mariners could use Wilhelmsen to help shore up their bullpen, but he'll likely need at least a Minor League outing or two before rejoining the club. Manager Lloyd McClendon said no decision would be made on Wilhelmsen's next step until the trainers see how his arm reacts on Thursday to his first game-like situation in nearly a month.

"It was good to see batters and how my stuff looks with a batter in there from both sides," Wilhelmsen said after facing Dustin Ackley and Chris Taylor prior to Wednesday's series finale with the Angels. "I felt free and easy today. I threw all my pitches and everything felt good. We'll figure out the next step a little later."

Wilhelmsen said his elbow feels 100 percent and his biggest challenge is regaining the feel of his changeup and curve.

"Definitely, those are two pitches I'll rely on quite a bit," he said. "This was the second time I've thrown the curveball, and for the most part I liked what I saw. The changeup seemed to get better as I was throwing it. My first couple were a little down and away, but I threw a couple nice ones there that I was pretty happy about later in the outing."

Pitching coach Rick Waits said he thought Wilhelmsen looked very good, considering it was his first time facing live hitters the first week of the season in Oakland.

"I thought his slider was really good. His changeup was good and he threw a couple good curveballs," Waits said. "A couple he left on the arm side, but yeah, for not being off the mound, that's pretty advanced. It's good to see that.

"The main thing is he feels good. I'm not worried about him getting his stuff back and controlling it. If he's healthy, we're fine."

With Seattle's normally stout bullpen struggling at times in the first month, Wilhelmsen is eager to get back and help as quickly as possible.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's tough to feel like you can't contribute, but I'm doing everything I can just as far as talking to guys and trying to keep everyone on the same page and not let anything get too far ahead of us."

Hisashi Iwakuma is playing catch at distances up to 75 feet with trainers in Seattle and "feeling pretty good," McClendon said. "His rehab is going fine."

The veteran right-hander was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, but "he's a ways away," said McClendon, who indicated Iwakuma will need to go out on a Minor League rehab assignment once his strained lat muscle behind his right shoulder is fully recovered in a couple of weeks.

"He's progressing well," McClendon said. "But even when he's ready, he's going to have to go out and pitch and build his arm back up."

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.