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Closing Time: Tom Wilhelmsen loses his way; Jose Valverde and Heath Bell feed the gopher

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Tom Wilhelmsen exits the scene (USAT)

For the opening six weeks, Tom Wilhelmsen was a closer in control. The Bartender reeled off 11 saves in a row and had a microscopic 0.50 ERA. Last year's delicious breakout year was being validated.

Alas, things have fallen apart since the middle of May, so it's time for an audit in Seattle. Settle in with your latte and meet us at Safeco Field.

Wilhelmsen unraveled in Wednesday's loss to Houston, allowing five runs and recording just one out in the ninth. It's his fourth blown save over 11 appearances, a stretch where he's walked 10 batters (three intentional) against just eight strikeouts. In the blink of an eye, his ERA is up to 3.77. More troubling, his strikeout rate has completely collapsed from last year (it's currently at 6.59/9) while the walks have spiked (4.71/9).

Wilhelmsen's velocity hasn't dropped off, but when your K/BB ratio is moving this strongly in the wrong direction, we have reason for worry. Opposing hitters are squaring up Wilhelmsen's pitches regularly, compiling a 22.5 percent line-drive clip.

Manager Eric Wedge didn't throw Wilhelmsen under the monorail in his post-game comments, for what it's worth. That's not a remarkable development - teams generally don't like to offer strong and immediate reactions to this sort of thing - but we should look at the comments anyway. Here's what Wedge told Greg Johns of MLB.com:

"Tom Wilhelmsen is still our closer, standing here right now," Wedge said. "The game just got over. Anything we do would involve a lot of conversation and we'll make sure we do the right things for the right reasons for this club and every individual on this club."

"The ninth inning is a different animal. You saw that. The next two guys [Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush] struggled, too. We just have to get Tom driving the ball downstairs, missing down when he does miss. We'll work on it."

Obviously the Mariners would prefer to fix their closer if at all possible, but we still need to have a look around. Second-year righty Carter Capps has been the understudy in the Seattle bullpen all year; consider him the first hedge of interest.

Capps has almost five strikeouts for every walk (34 K, 7 BB), albeit his ratios are nothing special (3.54 ERA, 1.36 WHIP). A gopher problem dogged him into the first week of May (five homers allowed), but he hasn't yielded one since. Capps wasn't used Wednesday but context clues point to him being the heir apparent if Wilhelmsen needs a time out.

Capps certainly looks the closer part, what with a 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame and a fastball in the mid-90s. He's widely available, owned in just one percent of Yahoo! leagues. In the most aggressive save-chasing pools, it's time to consider a move.

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Excitable boy (USAT)

While Wilhelmsen hasn't allowed a homer yet this year, two other floundering closers aren't so lucky. Jose Valverde frittered away Justin Verlander's win on Wednesday afternoon, done in by a lousy splitter that Lorenzo Cain walloped. Papa Grande has handed out five homers over two weeks, pushing his ERA up to 4.15. Panic in Detroit.

The Tigers don't have an obvious Plan B for the ninth inning. Joaquin Benoit has terrific numbers (1.93/1.04, 33 K, 9 BB) but the team seems to shy away from giving him the baton. Phil Coke can't be trusted to get right-handers out. Bruce Rondon remains a project, a high-velocity thrower who can't command his stuff yet. Given how aggressive the Tigers have been with roster construction during the Dave Dombrowski era, you get the idea Detroit might eventually go outside the organization for a patch-up stopper.

Things are getting interesting with the Diamondbacks as well. Arizona picked up Monday and Wednesday wins at Chavez Ravine in spite of Heath Bell; the stand-in closer gave up a Juan Uribe homer Monday and a Ramon Hernandez tater Wednesday. This isn't the murderer's row of the west. J.J. Putz (elbow) is on the mend, coming off a couple of bullpen sessions in June, and should start a rehab assignment soon. Manager Kirk Gibson might have a tricky choice to make in a few weeks.

Normally I don't expect much from starting pitchers fresh off the disabled list; why deal with likely pitch ceilings and uncertain health status? That said, Yahoo! nation is rushing to grab Jake Westbrook (elbow) for his Friday start and the move makes sense - a start at Miami is good work if you can get it, even with Giancarlo Stanton back in the fish tank. Westbrook was more fortunate than flash during his first six turns - a 1.62 ERA is never justified from a 1.46 WHIP - but I can't blame anyone for dipping into the streaming pool when the matchup lines up like this. Westbrook remains unowned in 82 percent of Y! leagues.

Playing time isn't easy to come by in the deep Boston lineup, but let's appreciate what Mike Carp has done with his 94 at-bats: .330/.373/.660, six homers. A useful run from Carp isn't completely out of nowhere; recall he batted .276 with 12 homers in 290 at-bats two years ago, in Seattle of all places. The Red Sox are up against right-handed pitching for the remainder of the week, so the lefty-swinging Carp figures to take some hacks. The deep-league option qualifies at first base and the outfield, and you'll find him unclaimed freight in 92 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Anyone up for a rental? Carpe Diem.

Another deep-league consideration waits for you in San Diego. Logan Forsythe will play while Jedd Gyorko on the shelf, and while Forsythe doesn't have a tingly upside, he's capable of hitting for a solid average and providing a modest amount of category juice (note the six homers and eight bats over 315 at-bats last year; that's respectable for a middle infielder). He's 3-for-9 since his return, with a homer. The ownership tag rests at a mere two percent.

Speed Round: The waiting game continues for Ryan Braun (thumb), who hasn't played since Sunday. A DL stint is still a possibility. … Yasiel Puig (shoulder) didn't start Wednesday, though he was hale enough to pinch-hit. He's expected to play on the weekend, though he also might be in line for a mild suspension for his role in Tuesday's brawl. … Hanley Ramirez (hamstring) also missed Wednesday's start but later pinch-hit, rapping into a double play. … Wilson Ramos (hamstring) hit a snag in his rehab and won't return before the All-Star break. … Clay Buchholz (neck) isn't back to full health yet and might not pitch again until Tuesday. … The Rangers haven't decided what they'll do with Jurickson Profar when Ian Kinsler (ribcage) returns to action. Kinsler could be ready as soon as Sunday. One option would be to use Profar in a utility role, but my guess says Profar will return to the minors unless someone gets hurt in the next few days. … Michael Cuddyer (ribs) has a shot to play Thursday, which would take some air out of the Tyler Colvin deep-league story. At least Colvin is ahead of Eric Young Jr. - the Rockies designated Young for assignment Wednesday. … Although Dillon Gee has been terrific over his last three starts, he admits he's doing it at less than 100 percent - he's been battling flexor tendinitis dating back to spring training. … Dustin Ackley is on a .417/.527/.583 tear, with two homers, since reporting to Triple-A two weeks ago. He picked up a start in left field Wednesday; meanwhile, Nick Franklin has looked good in the majors (.300/.397/.520, two homers, two steals) and figures to receive an extended trial at second base.

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