Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
James Paxton’s no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners at Toronto Tuesday night raised the question of how many other pitchers who have spent even one day in the American Association have been involved in a major league no-no. For that matter, how many who have played in any Independent league have done so in the majors dating all the way back to the modern-day start in 1993.
Photo: (Nick Turchiaro, USA TODAY Sports) James Paxton celebrates his no-hitter against Toronto
Paxton and Washington’s Max Scherzer seem to go down as the two pitchers from the American Association with a no-hitter–Scherzer has two–and our extensive records indicate only one other onetime Indy hurler was part of such a gem.
Wouldn’t you know, that pitcher is in the league today, hoping to revive his significant major league career.
The mystery man? Right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen, who already has appeared in 344 major league games, including two starts, with 68 career saves plus a 14-15 record. He has a respectable 3.53 earned run average with Paxton’s Mariners plus Texas and Arizona and saved 53 games for Seattle in one two-year stretch, with 29 in 2012 and 24 the next summer.
Wilhelmsen, still only 34, signed with the St. Paul Saints May 2 in an attempt to get his career back on track.
“He is a real good guy,” Saints manager George Tsamis praised this week. “He has the right attitude and is hungry and wants to get back (to the majors).”
Wilhelmsen, who spent five full years bartending and playing softball (2004-08) after one year as a draftee in the Milwaukee farm system when he was only 19, joined his hometown Tucson Toros in what was the Golden League in 2009 and got all the way up to the parent Mariners two years later.
The 6-foot-6 hurler was the last of six pitchers for the same Mariners on June 8, 2012 when they combined to hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless. Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth inning in that no-hitter. He has been in the majors at least part of every year since 2011, working in 21 games for the Diamondbacks (1-1, 4.44) last summer, and was a non-roster invitee to the San Diego Padres’ spring training camp this year.
Paxton’s first four professional games were with Grand Prairie in 2010 after the University of Kentucky lefty was declared ineligible for more college play since he had signed with an agent. The Mariners eventually drafted him in the fourth round that same year.
As only the second native Canadian to hurl a no-hit game in the majors, MLB.com reported 63 of Paxton’s 99 pitches in the 5-0 victory were four-seam fastballs which averaged 95.3 miles per hour.
Scherzer, who threw his first professional pitches with Fort Worth in the American Association in 2007, hurled no-hitters against Pittsburgh and the New York Mets in 2015 on his way to becoming of the major leagues’ top pitchers.
Bollinger Had No-Hit Bid
Ryan Bollinger, who spent a chunk of the ’14 season in the American Association with both Winnipeg and St. Paul, has had another memorable game in the New York Yankees farm system. The 6-foot-5 lefty, who made his return debut from Australia and Germany with five innings of one-run pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is now at Class AA Trenton where he carried a no-hitter for 5.2 innings in his initial start for the Thunder last weekend.
“I learned more about baseball (overseas), just having a good time playing again and not being under all that pressure,” he told The Trentonian. “I learned some different things about how to attack hitters and make things go your way.”
With a fastball that tracks between 85 and 88 miles per hour, Thunder manager Jay Bell told the newspaper Bollinger “commanded the strike zone and had a really good mound presence.”
Bollinger, now 27, went 10-1 with an 0.76 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 106 innings in Germany, then was 5-1 with a 3.48 ERA and a league lead-tying 75 strikeouts in 54.1 innings in Australia.
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at Amazon.com for books or Kindle readers, or for autographed copies at www.WirzandAssociates.com.