Sorry for the lack of updates Tuesday. I had a large haul for the paper while covering multiple beats at once. So, let’s get to some tidbits from down here in Peoria:
> As we all know, Tom Wilhelmsen is your closer heading into the season. He said he had a good winter down in Arizona (he’s from Tucson), especially since he’s a new dad. His daughter, Hahna, was born in August.
“She’s an angel so far,” Wilhelmsen said. “Sleeps through the night. She’s a happy, go-lucky girl. She eats all of her peas, which is more I can say for her dad.”
Wilhelmsen threw his first live bullpen Tuesday. He wants to get his sinker more consistent and improve his changeup. He has a circle-change grip, like Felix Hernandez, and has consulted with Hernandez about how to improve the changeup.
“I’m working on a more effective sinker, something that I can throw more consistently,” Wilhelmsen said. “I’m hoping to throw this changeup a little bit more. I’ve always had a sinker and some places it works better than other places just based on the climate and environment around. I’d like to have the option to throw that pitch for a strike. I threw the changeup maybe a dozen times last year. When I threw it, I was happy with it. It’s a pitch I don’t want to throw too much because I feel my strengths are in the fastball and curveball. But I do want that brewing in the back of hitter’s heads.”
When asked if he had the same action on his change as Felix, he laughed.
“Yeah, right,” Wilhelmsen said. “I’m trying to.”
It should also be noted Wilhelmsen refers to Hernandez as “The King” when he speaks about him. He’s one of several players I have talked to the past couple days who are very pleased about Hernandez’s new contract. They talk about it almost as if they are getting part.
“You couldn’t be happier,” Wilhelmsen said. “The guy is the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, hands down. He deserves it and he’s a hell of a person on top of it. We couldn’t be happier for him.”
> No surprise Brendan Ryan wants to commit zero errors this year. He also said Tuesday the problem that required surgery to remove “loose bodies” from his right elbow didn’t affect his hitting at all last season. However, on certain throws late in the season, he wasn’t able to follow through all the way because of it.
He also talked about a particular point of pride and personal nuisance. Manager Eric Wedge and bench coach Robby Thompson, who runs the infield, have come to trust Ryan with a lot. Ryan is an at times flippant and aloof personality. Wedge and Thompson are stern and grizzled. So, the personality dynamic between the group is an interesting one.
They have enough faith in Ryan that he’s often repositioning the young guys he’s flanked by, Kyle Seager to his right at third and Dustin Ackley to his left at second. The repositioning can lead to double plays that appear routine, but were snuffed out beforehand. If Ryan moves one of those guys incorrectly and the ball gets through or they don’t turn it, he views that as an error.
“Robbie is a very special guy, somebody I feel close to and have an enormous amount of trust in,” Ryan said. “He’s able to walk the fine line of being a coach but being a big supporter at the same time. That’s a difficult thing to do.
“He gets it. He’s a guy that played hard and was scrappy and a great teammate. I like to think he sees something in me, that’s why spends so much time with me. I just think he cares. I don’t think I’m the only guy he cares about in any way. Being an infielder, a middle infielder, I think I’m somebody he’s taken to.
“His role is to kick me in the butt at times, but I never question his intentions because I have absolutely no reason to.”
It’s easy to forget Thompson started at second base for the San Francisco Giants for 11 consecutive years and won a Gold Glove one season. When he talks, the guys tend to listen because he’s been there.
> Felix Hernandez is scheduled to throw his first live bullpen session on Wednesday, though rain is in the forecast here. We expect mass hysteria and arc construction if it does rain in Peoria. If Hernandez is out in the field, I’ll try to grab some video of his BP and throw it up on Twitter. I’m @Todd_Dybas, if you want to follow. Here’s a video of Carter Capps and his funkadelic delivery style getting loose Tuesday.
> No word yet on how the pitchers will be aligned for Friday’s opener with the Padres. Wedge said they will have guys just throw an inning apiece (or less) and pitching coach Carl Willis was sorting it out Tuesday afternoon.
> Taijuan Walker threw live BP Tuesday. He worked a lot of off-speed stuff. He’s trying to resurrect his curveball, which he felt abandoned him in Double-A Jackson last year. Because of that, he was unsure about his stuff by midseason.
“I lost a little confidence in the month of June,” Walker said. “I wasn’t mentally tough when I should have been. But then I worked through it. I think the biggest thing was me — I learned about myself — I took that and started to get mentally tough again. It’s going to be a tough game. You’re going to fail a lot. I just took that and worked that in and kept going instead of giving up.”
Walker wants to make the rotation out of camp. He’s also put on about 30 pounds since the M’s drafted him. He’s 6-4, 220 now and is a physical presence.
General manager Jack Zduriencik said he has no problem with Walker’s ambition to make the club now.
“With any of these young pitchers, you just let them come to spring training and see what happens,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t think you put restrictions on anybody, leave the door wide open. Let kids compete because there is a lot that can happen from now until we break.
“In my heart of hearts, I kind of have an idea what would happen, but in the same sense, you would never want to tell any player you come into spring training (without a shot). It’s wide open, do what you can do to impress. You’ve got to be careful they don’t over-extend themselves. But, I think these kids have worked very hard, he in particular, to get ready for this and I think this is a big moment for him. We’re all very anxious to watch how this unfolds when the games start.”
A funny flashback from Walker:
He and his Jackson teammates, including Felix’s brother, Moises, watched Hernandez’s perfect game on the outfield scoreboard last summer.
“First, no one wanted to move,” Walker said. “We got to the last out, we all kind of huddled up and Moises was right there in the middle. Strike three we all went kind of crazy. It was pretty cool.”
That’s it for now. We’ll make the rounds Wednesday and see what we can get up here, hopefully in the afternoon or sooner. I have to drive a couple hours to Tucson for the Arizona/UW game which tips at 9 p.m. local time, so we’ll try to get some info about Felix Hernandez’s day in before that.