It's hard for anyone to argue, at this point, that right-hander Brandon Maurer deserves to stay in the Mariners' rotation. Maurer is 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA after yielding five runs in four innings Thursday in a 7-5 loss to the Angels at Safeco Field.
Maurer has made seven starts since injuries, and an ineffective Erasmo Ramirez, prompted his promotion from Triple-A Tacoma. Only once has he worked more than five innings. That was May 9 in a 6-1 loss to Kansas City when he did something that hadn't been done in nearly a century — allow 14 hits but no extra-base hits, walks or strikeouts.
Manager Lloyd McClendon, who chooses his words carefully in such situations, acknowledged after Thursday's loss that he and general manager Jack Zduriencik would discuss possible alternatives before Maurer's turn comes around again Tuesday in Atlanta.
"When you look at options," McClendon said, "you have to sit down and make sure you have a viable option. That’s something Jack and I will talk about and see where we go from here."
That's just it. The alternatives aren't great. Some fans like to proclaim that "anyone" is better. That's a cop-out. Try to identify that anyone, which is what Zduriencik and McClendon are presumably doing, and it's just not that easy.
The Mariners had hoped James Paxton might be ready to reclaim a rotation spot at this point, but then he was diagnosed with inflammation in his shoulder after last Saturday's rehab start at Tacoma. Club officials won't specify a revised timetable, but it's unlikely Paxton is ready prior to late June.
Taijuan Walker is still on the rehab trail, and he made it through a start Tuesday at Tacoma with nothing more than usual soreness. But he was also rusty. McClendon and other club officials say he needs at least one more rehab start, and probably two more.
That leaves Ramirez as the only viable in-house option unless the Mariners want to make a 40-man roster move. That's possible. Right-hander Jordan Pries has a 2.56 ERA in eight starts at Tacoma after two strong starts at Double-A Jackson.
Here's the issue with Pries: Do the Mariners want to burn a 40-man roster spot for a short-term benefit?
And that's what this is like to be. Walker could be ready within two weeks. Paxton, shortly thereafter. Clubs usually only add a prospect to the roster when forced to do so by service-time deadlines or if they believe he is ready to come up and stay at the big-league level.
If not Pries, the choice seems to be Maurer or Ramirez unless somebody pops up on the waiver wire. Ramirez pitched well Thursday at Tacoma, two runs in six-plus innings, but his overall work there hasn't been great: 1-3 with a 4.55 ERA. Ramirez was 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA in six big-league starts, which is why he's in the minors.
So pretend you're in the room with Zduriencik and McClendon. What's your recommendation?
The Mariners chose to be evasive when asked why second baseman Robinson Cano was scratched from Thursday's game against the Angels. The initial report was he "wasn't feeling well."
Afterward, McClendon said: "He wasn’t feeling his best tonight, so we’ll reevaluate and see how he feels (on Friday)."
This is strange on a couple of levels.
If a player has the flu (or flu-like symptoms), clubs usually say so. Plus, Cano is one of the game's most durable players. Nobody has played in more games since the start of the 2007 season.
Cano was spiked in the right leg Monday night on a play at second, but he finished the game. He served Tuesday as the designated hitter, but was back in the field on Wednesday (although he had, perhaps, his worst night of the season at the plate: 0-for-4 with two double-play grounders.)
We'll see what happens tonight.
Draft and prospects
The amateur draft (technically, the first-year player draft) is now less than a week away. If you like speculating on what might happen, Baseball America's John Manuel has an updated mock draft. He has the Mariners selecting Hartford left-handed pitcher Sean Newcomb.
Also of note: ESPN.com's Keith Law has a revised ranking (subscription) of the top 25 minor-league prospects. It contains no Mariners.
***Michael Saunders went 1-for-2 with a two-run homer, a sacrifice fly and a walk in Thursday's loss. He is batting .321 in May (27-for-84) with 17 runs, seven extra-base hits, 17 RBIs, a .362 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage.
***Kyle Seager moved into a tie for the club lead in homers (seven) and RBIs (31) when he hit a two-run shot Thursday in the ninth inning. Mike Zunino and Justin Smoak also have seven homers. Robinson Cano also has 31 RBIs.
***Brad Miller went 2-for-3 for his first multi-hit game since May 2 at Houston.
***The bullpen worked five innings behind starter Brandon Maurer. It marked the seventh time in 53 games that the relief corps pitched at least five innings in a game.
Around the farms
***Triple-A Tacoma, as noted above, got a strong start from Erasmo Ramirez and ended a five-game skid with a 5-2 victory over Salt Lake (Angels). Our Andy Bixler has the details.
***Double-A Jackson got a homer and four RBIs from Patrick Kivlehan in salvaging a split of its doubleheader at Mobile (Diamondbacks). From the Jackson Sun.
***Hi-A High Desert, a night after three pitchers combined for a no-hitter, lost a 10-7 slugfest to Rancho Cucamonga. Here's the box.
***Lo-A Clinton got a combined shutout from Jose Flores (six innings) and Rafael Pineda in a 5-0 victory over Kane County (Cubs). From the LumberKings' website.