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Originally published Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 8:37 PM

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Mariners’ Wilhelmsen will stay in short relief for now

Seattle Times staff reporter

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HOUSTON – Tom Wilhelmsen was sprawled on a clubhouse couch Sunday morning, working his way through a crossword puzzle.

But he has spent more time the past several months working out an even bigger puzzle: the one about what’s happened to his once-promising career as a closer. Wilhelmsen posted a 10.50 earned-run average in eight outings at Class AAA the past month and won’t be closing games for the Mariners again any time soon.

Instead, he’ll keep doing what he tried to do during his time in AAA.

“Throwing strikes,’’ he said before Sunday’s game. “Trying to throw strikes. It’s kind of been that way and not just the past month. It’s what you’re always trying to do.’’

Wilhelmsen recorded the final out of Sunday’s eighth inning on a ground ball by the only batter he faced.

The Mariners have also called up catcher Mike Zunino, who will be behind the plate for Felix Hernandez in Kansas City on Monday for the first time since breaking the hamate bone in his hand a month ago. Additional callups by the team are expected in coming days as the AAA season ends.

Wilhelmsen insists he was throwing strikes in Tacoma, even while allowing 19 hits and five walks over 12 combined innings as a starter and relief pitcher.

“I guess if I’m working on throwing strikes and the numbers weren’t good, that means I’m throwing strikes,’’ he said. “Because, they’re hitting them. So, I was successful in doing what I was supposed to be doing.’’

Mariners manager Eric Wedge is hoping Wilhelmsen will be a little more successful than the AAA numbers indicate.

In 2011, the Mariners saw Wilhelmsen dominate in a second, late-season stint with the club despite poor minor-league numbers as a starter.

“We’ve seen him come up here before and do well, even better than what he did in the minor leagues,’’ Wedge said, referring to the second half of 2011. “So, hopefully he can flip that switch again. I do feel strongly that he’s going to be a part of this. In what role, I don’t know. He has too big an arm. He has too much experience. He’s had too much success up here in a vital role not to be.’’

For now, that role will be as a non-closing reliever from the right side.

Note

• The Mariners have released pitcher Aaron Harang after they were unable to trade him by Saturday’s deadline. Harang, 35, went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts for the Mariners before being designated for assignment last week.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.

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