Brandon Maurer did nothing to take himself out of the competition for the starting rotation. In fact, he may have strengthened his case for one of those coveted spots.
The right-handed pitching prospect tossed five strong innings, allowing one run on three hits and striking out four in the Mariners 6-3 win over the San Francisco Giants, Tuesday night.
And he did it all without having command of his four-seam fastball – his most used pitch. So basically, he pitched five innings against a San Francisco line-up that featured six legitimate and experienced major league players without his fastball and still only allowed three hits.
“I just didn’t have the control with it, so I didn’t try to overthrow anything because that tends to get wild when I try do that,” he said.
Instead, he went to his other four pitches. He used his two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.
“I was able to use those offspeed pitches to get outs,” he said.
It’s the sign of a maturing starting pitcher. On plenty of nights in a season, at least one or two pitches aren’t going to be working exactly how a pitcher wants them to. But for Maurer he has enough pitches and confidence in them to find ways.
It’s something that sets him apart from his fellow pitching prospects – Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, who were dubbed the “Big 3” last spring.
“That’s a big part of it for him, he’s not just one, two or three pitch pitcher, he’s got four or five different types of pitches that he can throw,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s a big strong guy that works off his fastball. In a lot of ways that’s a good sign that he’s able to use his other pitches and work his way through the ball game.”
With 11,188 people crammed into the Peoria Stadium, the defending World Series Champion Giants across the field and his parents back home in California being able to watch for the rare televised game, there were plenty of factors to make Maurer’s veins pump with adrenaline pregame. Of course, there was also the albatross of possibly making the starting rotation looming over him with each pitch.
“It was a great opportunity for him to be under the lights in this setting with a great crowd and this late in camp,” Wedge said.
It wasn’t quite the same as a major league game, but the stakes were certainly elevated for Maurer more than in any appearance this spring.
And yet, for the laid-back Southern Californian, the moment didn’t seem too big for him.
“I got a little nervous at first like anyone would,” he said. “But I got that first inning under my belt and I was like, ‘alright, let’s roll.’”
That first inning could have been a disaster. After striking out Andres Torres to start the game, he hit Gregor Blanco in the leg with a pitch. Hunter Pence then singled to left as Blanco was stealing second to put runners on the corners.
But Maurer didn’t fall apart. He got some help from his defense as Kendrys Morales – not known for his glove - fielded a ground ball from Brandon Belt, fired to second for the force out and retreated to first to catch end of the 3-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Did it help Maurer to exhale some of those early jitters?
“Quite a bit, quite a bit,” he said. “He made a quite a few plays over there that were like, ‘whew, thank you.’”
The only other trouble Maurer found himself in was in the fourth when he gave up a two-out single to Brandon Belt and then left a fastball up that Brandon Crawford hammered to center for a triple.
But that was it. He got out of the inning with a fly out and worked a 1-2-3 fifth.
Maurer was so efficient, throwing 64 pitches (42 strikes) that he needed to throw 16 more pitches in the bullpen to reach his total/limit of 80 for the outing.
So does this outing put Maurer ahead in the competition?
Wedge isn’t dropping any hints. His poker face could burn is as unmoving as concrete.
“We fully expected him to com in here and compete,” Wedge said. “That’s what he’s done. That’s why he’s still here. That’s why he’s still pitching.”
Wedge wouldn’t bite on questions about experience or lack thereof hurting Maurer’s chances.
“He has major league stuff and we feel strongly he will be able to get major league outs,” Wedge said. “But as we prep everything out for the decisions we have to make, you have to take everything into consideration – the experience level, what the other guys have done and match that up with what he’s done. We don’t have to make any decisions yet. We still have time.”
Maurer is playing it cool, or at least trying to appear to be doing so.
Is he still the long shot of the group of five pitchers vying for two spots? Of course, he’s never pitched above Double A, while his competitors Jon Garland (330), Jeremy Bonderman (193), Blake Beavan (41) and Erasmo Ramirez (8) have a combined 572 major league starts in their careers.
Does it all matter?
It didn’t two years ago when Michael Pineda forced the Mariners to put him in the rotation by dominating the Cactus League.
Maurer hasn’t done that, but neither has Beavan, Garland or Bonderman. He’s been better than all three.
Admittedly, he wouldn’t have believed people if they told him he’d be in this position before reporting to spring training. So why overthink it? Instead, he’s going to enjoy it.
“If I’m pitching up there, or if I’m pitching down there, I’m still pitching,” he said. “I just go out there and try to have fun.”
The Mariners won their sixth-straight Cactus League game defeating the defending World Series champions in front of a packed house of 11,188 on a perfect Tuesday night with temps in the mid 70s. Brandon Maurer gave the Mariners a solid start, pitching five innings and allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts.
Play of the game
Kendrys Morales kept the power show going, ripping his third home run in three games and fifth of this spring. The slugging first baseman pushed the Mariners homer total to 45 this spring. And yet it wasn’t his biggest play. Not known for his glove, he turned a 3-6-3 double play in the first inning to help Brandon Maurer get of a jam with runners on first and third and one out.
Who was hot
Nick Franklin has had a quiet spring, but he had what manager Eric Wedge labeled his “best night” of the spring, going 2-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored. Franklin drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single off of Barry Zito in the second inning. He led off the fifth inning with a double off of Zito and later scored on a sacrifice fly. He also added a sacrifice fly of his own in the sixth inning.
Who was not
Tom Wilhelmsen is usually pretty reliable. But the Mariners closer struggled in his one inning of work, giving up two runs on two hits with a walk. Wilhelmsen walked the lead-off hitter Andres Torres, which is never a good thing for a closer. . He then gave up an RBI single to Gregor Blanco and run scoring ground rule double to Brandon Belt.
The Mariners are off today. They return to action on Thursday night in Peoria against the Chicago Cubs. Jon Garland is scheduled to start for Seattle, while Jeff Samardzija will go for Chicago. Ryan recovering from a sore neck
Brendan Ryan isn’t the type of player to miss multiple – spring training or otherwise – without good reason. But the Mariners starting shortstop had missed the last two games with a stiff neck. But his absence was just precautionary.
"I just slept funny and woke up and it was a little stiff," he said. "I threw a baseball and felt it kind of pinch and thought, 'If I try to man up here, I'm just going to end up out a week or more or something like that.'”
The Mariners shut Ryan down for a few days, gave him some medication for the pain and the spasms as well.
“I just did the right thing,” he said. “I got off the field and they gave me a little stuff to stop the spasm. But it was nothing crazy. Nothing even close to what it was a couple years ago."