MIAMI — It’s different this time, Brandon Maurer said, as he prepares for his season debut Sunday as the Mariners’ starting pitcher in the series finale against the Marlins.
A year ago, he was the young phenom who broke camp with the big-league club by making the jump from Double-A Jackson after an electric spring. He recalls the experience as “stressful.”
Maurer’s return, in contrast, is almost under the radar following four outings at Triple-A Tacoma after a spring interrupted by recurrent stiffness in his lower back.
“I’m more comfortable this time,” he said. “And after starting this year in Triple-A, I was able to get everything back after spring training. I wasn’t 100 percent (in spring training).
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“I’ve been getting in the groove of things again. I feel good. Ready to go.”
Maurer, still just 23, entered spring camp as a rotation candidate but worked just 4 2/3 innings because that ailing back. He was better by late March, but the Mariners sent him to Tacoma to build endurance.
When a series of injuries thinned the big-league rotation, Maurer got a sooner-than-expected recall. He made only one start for the Rainiers, worked just 8 1/3 innings and never threw more than 55 pitches in any appearance.
That suggests he isn’t likely to go much beyond 75 against the Marlins.
“Yeah, he’s on a pitch count,” manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed, “but I don’t want to reveal what that number is.”
Maurer plans a simple approach.
“I’m going to go as long as I can,” he said. “I’m ready to go until they take it from me. I’m literally going to go out there and do my best, try to keep us in the game as long as I can. When I’m out, I’m out.”
The Mariners won’t officially recall Maurer until Sunday morning because they must make a corresponding space-clearing roster move. McClendon said that move will likely involve a position player.
Maurer flashed potential last season but generally struggled as a rookie. He was sent to Tacoma for a two-month tour at midseason before returning and finishing at 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA.
Sunday represents an opportunity to reignite his status as a top prospect.
“It’s going to happen if it happens,” Maurer said. “I’m definitely more comfortable this time, and I’ll just go from there.”
Corey Hart went four for seven with two walks over the two previous games but wasn’t in Saturday’s starting lineup as a precaution against rushing his recovery from surgeries on both knees.
“This was the plan,” McClendon said. “Look, he’s feeling better. He came in last night and said, `I feel great.’ I said, `Good, I want to keep it that way. You’re off (Saturday).’ He really wanted to play, but it just makes sense.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse with this guy. We’ve got to be careful and make sure we continue to build with him.”
Hart leads the Mariners with four homers but has battled forearm and back soreness after missing all of last season while recovering from those knee surgeries. He had not played in the field prior to Thursday’s game at Texas.
“I learned a long time ago that you can’t be afraid to take a guy out of the lineup and maybe lose a game,” McClendon said. “You give him the rest. It may help you win six or seven down the road.
“You just can’t be that short-sighted. You’ve got to look at the big picture here. We’ve talked about it before. It’s a grind, a 162-game schedule. We’ve got to look at the big picture when it comes to Corey Hart.”
Last walk-off slam
You might recall the last time, before Friday, when the Mariners lost on a walk-off grand slam. It was May 29, 2010 in a 5-1 loss to the Angels in 10 innings.
Then-Angel Kendrys (known then as Kendry) Morales went deep against Brandon League after Felix Hernandez held Anaheim to one run in eight innings.
Morales suffered a broken leg when he landed awkwardly while attempting to stomp on the plate in the middle of a celebratory scrum. He required season-ending surgery.
Complications from that surgery then forced Morales to miss the 2011 season. He returned to the Angels in 2012 and was traded to the Mariners after the season. He batted .277 last year with 23 homers and 80 RBIs.
Morales became a free agent when he rejected the Mariners’ qualifying offer of $14.1 million after last season and remains unsigned.
Infielder Patrick Kivlehan had his second straight multi-homer game Friday in Hi-A High Desert’s 9-0 romp at Lancaster (Astros). Kivlehan now has seven homers in 16 games.
Those seven homers are the most, through Friday, by any minor-league player. Kivlehan leads the organization with 16 RBIs.
The Mariners selected Kivlehan, 24, in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. He split last season between High Desert and Lo-A Clinton, batting .303 with 16 homers and 90 RBIs in 128 games.
Lefty reliever Joe Beimel turned 37 on Saturday…Brandon Maurer will be the seventh starting pitcher used by the Mariners in 18 games…Friday’s loss was the Mariners’ 52nd walk-off defeat since the start of the 2010 season. St. Louis and Cincinnati, with 38, rank second in that span.
It was 24 years ago Sunday — April 20, 1990 — that right-hander Brian Holman came within one out of a perfect game before settling for a one-hitter in a 6-1 victory at Oakland.
Holman retired the first 26 batters before surrendering a pinch-hit homer to Ken Phelps. Holman then ended the game by striking out Rickey Henderson.
The Mariners complete their stay in South Florida with a game at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Marlins Park.
Right-hander Brandon Maurer (0-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four games in Triple-A) will be recalled from Tacoma prior to the game and start the series finale. The Marlins are starting right-hander Kevin Slowey (0-0, 4.38).
Root Sports will carry the game.
The Mariners open a six-game homestand on Monday when Felix Hernandez faces Houston at Safeco Field.