From bar to bigs: Wilhelmsen lands spot in M’s bullpen

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I had the opportunity to do a story on Tom Wilhelmsen this spring as part of a seven-part series on players chasing their big-league dreams.

In case you’re still not familiar with his story, the 6-foot-6 pitcher quit the game in 2004 after being suspended for a second failed test for marijuana. He traveled the world and became a bartender, and generally gave up on his childhood dream.

But he eventually decided to get back into the sport, and spent last season in the Seattle Mariners system, topping out a mid-level Class-A ball.

Today the word came down: Seven years after quitting baseball, Wilhelmsen was going to the major leagues, landing a spot in the Mariners bullpen. The Mariners coaches admired the 27-year-old’s poise on the mound, and his 97-mph fastball didn’t hurt, either.

Geoff Baker has a nice story on Wilhelmsen’s big moment over at the Seattle Times, including an emotional interview with Wilhelmsen’s father, John.

“I’m so relieved as a father, because I didn’t want him to be 35 and saying, ‘I shoulda,’ ” his father said. “I didn’t want him to live his life like that. I wanted him to know for himself that, whatever happened, he gave it 100 percent. After that, whatever happens, happens.”

Wilhelmsen made it to the majors, but what about the other players I featured this spring? Let’s take a look:

Hunter and Lewis are, of course, established big leaguers who shared stories of their past struggles. Ackley is a rising star who was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft. Of the others, only Wilhelmsen is likely to stick in the majors this season, and his cause was aided by playing for a team in transition that entered spring with lots of bullpen questions.

It all just illustrates how difficult it is to play this wonderful game.

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Steven Souza Jr. exits game after injuring his hand on a hit by pitch

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Rays’ right fielder Steven Souza Jr. left Saturday’s game after getting hit on the left hand by a pitch from Blue Jays’ right-hander Joe Biagini in the seventh inning. The pitch appeared to hit the top of Souza Jr.’s hand, causing the outfielder to crumple at the plate and requiring assistance from assistant athletic trainer Paul Harker as he exited the field. Postgame reports from the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin revealed that Souza Jr. sustained a left hand contusion and is scheduled to undergo further evaluation on Sunday.

While the diagnosis isn’t as bad as it could be, it’s still a tough break for the right fielder, who missed 40 days of the 2015 season after sustaining a fracture in his left hand on another hit by pitch. The team has yet to announce any concrete timetable for Souza Jr.’s return, though manager Kevin Cash indicated that they’ll be taking things day to day for the time being.

Souza Jr. is batting .326/.398/.543 with four home runs and 17 RBI through 104 PA in 2017. He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a walk prior to his departure during Saturday’s 4-1 loss.

Video: Brett Gardner goes deep for his first and second home runs of 2017

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It’s been a slow start to the season for Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner, who entered Saturday’s matinee against the Orioles with a .188/.316/.234 batting line, three doubles and five stolen bases in his first 76 PA of the year. That all changed in the first inning of Saturday’s game, when Gardner skied a leadoff home run to right field:

Orioles’ right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t find his footing against the Yankees in the second inning, either. Gardner returned for his second home run of the season, a three-run shot to lift New York 5-0 over Baltimore:

Measured at 411 feet in the right field bullpen, the left fielder’s blast marked the seventh home run hit by a Yankee this series. According to the club’s PR department, it’s also the first multi-home run game Gardner has recorded since September 2015. The Yankees currently lead the Orioles 7-0 through four innings.