McClendon likes Wilhelmsen in bullpen

McClendon likes Wilhelmsen in bullpen

SEATTLE -- While versatile right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen was mentioned in midseason as a potential starting candidate down the road by manager Lloyd McClendon, Seattle's skipper said Saturday he thinks the 30-year-old might be too valuable in the bullpen to mess with that success.

Wilhelmsen made one spot start for the Mariners just before the All-Star break, but otherwise has been a bullpen stalwart with a 2.06 ERA in 74 1/3 innings over 51 appearances.

With hard-throwing young relievers like Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith recently adding to the Mariners' depth of bullpen arms, McClendon was asked if that might make it easier to consider trying Wilhelmsen in a starting role next spring. But he was no longer biting on that question, saying "that's way down the road," despite indicating he was intrigued by the big right-hander's starting potential earlier.

But McClendon did acknowledge the club's wealth of young arms could make for some interesting decisions.

"It's always easier when you have more options," he said. "Wilhelmsen has been so dominant in his role, I would be hard-pressed to take him out of that if you think of what he's done and what he's meant to this team. I was looking at the numbers yesterday. His hits-to-innings are ridiculous."

Wilhelmsen has allowed just 43 hits in 74 1/3 innings and has a 0.996 WHIP, which was second on the team behind Felix Hernandez's 0.915 prior to Hernandez's start on Saturday.

McClendon feels Wilhelmsen's versatility and ability to both pitch in a setup role as well as cover several innings to bridge the gap on occasions when starters have struggled makes him a critical element to Seattle's success, potentially as valuable as a member of the rotation.

"Absolutely," he said. "We'll look at a lot of different options moving forward."

Worth noting

• Saturday's game was a sellout at Safeco Field, the first since a full house for the home opener on April 8. There were about 15,000 tickets remaining for Sunday's 1:10 p.m. PT series finale with the A's as of Saturday afternoon.

• While Brad Miller has regained the starting role at shortstop, rookie Chris Taylor was in the lineup Saturday against right-hander Sonny Gray.

"I can't have him sit forever," McClendon said. "I need him to be a productive player."

• Seattle has clinched its second straight season series against the A's after going 11-8 against Oakland last season. It's the Mariners' first back-to-back winning seasons against the A's since three straight years from 2001-03.

Fernando Rodney led the AL with his 45 saves going into Saturday's games, three ahead of the Royals' Greg Holland. No Mariner has ever led the league in saves for a season. Kazuhiro Sasaki was second in the AL in 2001 with 45, and J.J. Putz tied for second with 40 in 2007.

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.