Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon admitted Wednesday that's he has wondered how reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, with his mid-90's fastball and assortment of sharp offspeed pitches, would fare if the right-hander was moved out of the bullpen and into the rotation.
McClendon won't have to wonder any longer after Wilhelmsen makes his first Major League start Thursday, when the Mariners wrap up a four-game series at Safeco Field against the Twins
"He's been impressive in the long [relief] role. It's certainly intriguing, something that's been on my mind," McClendon said of seeing Wilhelmsen start. "We'll see."
After losing 8-1 to Minnesota on Wednesday, the Mariners will use exclusively relievers in the finale to set up the rotation for Friday, when they begin a three-game set against the A's that will lead up to the All-Star break. McClendon said he hopes Wilhelmsen (1-1, 2.49 ERA), who has never thrown more than three innings in an big league game, can last three or four frames before giving way to the bullpen.
The Mariners optioned rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker to Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday and recalled right-hander Stephen Pryor in a temporary move to give the club nine relievers and Walker a pair of starts with the Rainiers before he likely returns to Seattle when the club opens an Interleague series against the Mets on July 21.
The Pryor move proved to be very temporary as he was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma after the game so lefty Lucas Luetge can be added on Thursday. Pryor allowed one run on one hit and two walks in 1 2/3 innings in his first big league appearance of the season Wednesday night. He threw 17 of 35 pitches for strikes.
"His outing had nothing to do with [him being sent down]," McClendon said. "We were going to do it anyway."
Wilhelmsen, a hard-throwing, lanky former closer, said he won't change the way he prepares.
"I think most the guys in the bullpen were starters at some point, so its not like I'm playing football," he said. "It's a little different mindset maybe but I'm not going to try to look at it that way."
By giving Wilhelmsen the spot start, it pushes ace Felix Hernandez back a day and sets him up for a Friday matchup with A's ace Jeff Samardzija, whom Oakland acquired last week in a blockbuster deal with the Cubs. The Mariners will then send No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma to the mound Saturday before veteran pitcher Chris Young goes Sunday.
"I'm just doing what any other manager would do at the end of the first half," McClendon said. "You have an opportunity to put your best and most experienced pitchers out there, you do it. …I learned a long time ago, you don't put importance on one series."
Countering the Mariners' slough of pitchers Thursday is Twins right-hander Yohan Pino (0-2, 4.98 ERA), who'll be making just the fifth start of his career. Pino fared well his last time out, giving up just one run on three hits and two walks over six innings against the Yankees, but was stuck with a no-decision. Nonetheless, it was still an improvement on his previous two starts in which he allowed a combined nine runs over 8 2/3 innings.
"I thought his ball was jumping. I thought he was locating right from the get-go," manager Ron Gardenhire said of his last start. "He made his pitches and you could see him really focus out there. He didn't back away from those guys at all and made some very nice pitches."
Mariners: Beimel rolling
Left-handed reliever Joe Beimel began Wednesday with the longest active scoreless streak in the American League.
Beimel hasn't allowed a run in his last 17 2/3 innings, a span of 17 games. The last time he was charged with a run was April 26, when he gave up two in a 6-3 loss to the Rangers. In 2014, Beimel has stranded 13 of 15 inherited runners and is 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA.
"He's been real good. I've been very pleased. Joe has pitched in a lot of big games in his career," McClendon said. "I think he's one of the reasons our bullpen is as good as it is. His numbers withstanding, what he brings to that bullpen is experience and gives it a calming effect down there."
Beimel, 37, made his big league debut with the Pirates in 2001 during McClendon's first year managing Pittsburgh. The Pirates went 62-100 that season.
"Twenty years ago?" McClendon joked when asked how Beimel had changed. "I believe he was in [Class A] ball when I brought him to the big leagues because we didn't have any pitching. He's got a different hairstyle [now] … a little bit more ink."
Twins: Johnson to start Friday
The Twins plan to recall left-hander Kris Johnson from Triple-A Rochester to start Friday's series opener against the Rockies. The rotation spot opened earlier this week when right-hander Ricky Nolasco was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain.
Johnson is 8-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 16 starts with Rochester. He has struck out 83 and walked 38 in 98 1/3 innings. He made a start with the Twins on May 1, but it took him 106 pitches to complete 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
"He's been throwing great like a lot of guys down there," Gardenhire said. "I know last time he was up here his pitch count got high but he has good stuff. He's been pitching well. That's who they recommended and he's in line, so I'm happy with it."
The club will clear space on the 25-man roster for Johnson by making a move Friday. Pino is the most likely candidate to be sent down. Since the All-Star break is Monday, he could be recalled late next week without missing a start.
• Twins rookie shortstop Danny Santana, currently on the 15-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his left knee, will likely embark on a rehab assignment during the All-Star break. The club hopes to have him back when it begins a homestand July 18.
• If the Mariners beat the Twins on Thursday, it will mark their 50th win of their season. Seattle has reached the 50-win mark before the All-Star break four times in franchise history. The Mariners accomplished the feat in 2001 (63 wins), 2003 (58 wins), 2002 (55 wins) and 2000 (51 wins).
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.