The message to Brandon Maurer was simple. Forget about the Texas Rangers. Forget about the scouting reports and hitter’s heat zones. Forget about the results and the expectations.
Carl Willis asked Maurer to do one thing when he stepped on the mound on Sunday: Be Brandon Maurer.
Because both Willis and manager Eric Wedge knew that if Maurer simply did that, he’d have success at the big league level.
Maurer pitched more like himself – the guy that forced his way into the Mariners rotation – tossing six innings, allowing three runs on five hits, while striking out five, walking one, and earning his first major league win in Seattle’s 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers at a sunny but chilly Safeco Field.
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“We talked a couple days ago about today’s start and how he’s going to go out and be Brandon Maurer,” Willis said pregame. “We didn’t let him get caught up into how to attack the Rangers or any of that stuff. We told him to go out pitch his game.”
Maurer looked nothing like the nervous, over-throwing kid of his previous start that never got past the first inning. It was very apparent when he pumped a 95 mph fastball by Craig Gentry on a 3-2 count for strikeout for the second out of the game.
Even after Maurer walked the next hitter – Lance Berkman – there was no panic. He coolly got ahead of Adrian Beltre and whipped another 95 mph fastball by him for a strikeout.
“It made me feel much more comfortable out there,” Maurer said of the first inning. “Just going out there and knowing my stuff will play.”
The Mariners also gave Maurer a little confidence with some run support. He gave up a run in the top of the second on a Mitch Moreland RBI double. Seattle immediately answered with a run in the bottom of the inning with back-to-back doubles from Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager off of Rangers starter Nick Tepesch. The Mariners took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning as Raul Ibanez crushed a solo homer to right-center.
However, it looked as though Maurer might have lost his chance for a win. He gave up a pair of runs in the fifth inning as Lance Berkman drove home a run and another scored on a passed ball.
After a 1-2-3 sixth inning, he was clearly done for the day at 97 pitches. He went into the dugout, still down 3-2.
But his teammates put him in line for the win.
A double from Seager and a bloop single from Jesus Montero tied the game at 3-3. And Dustin Ackley put the Mariners up for good, lashing a single up the middle off of Tepesch to score Montero.
“I was just glad we were able to get some runs on the board for the pitchers,” Ackley said. “I was just looking to hit a ball up the middle. I didn’t see a fastball up until that point. I was just trying to stay on the ball and battle.”
The quartet of Smoak, Montero, Seager and Ackley combined for six of the Mariners 10 hits in the game. All four have had their struggles early on so the production was pleasing for Wedge.
“The way I envisioned this is the combination of the veterans doing their thing and the young kids continuing progress,” Wedge said. “That should happen. That will happen.”
The Mariners bullpen secured the win for Maurer. Four pitchers combined to work the final three innings with Tom Wilhelmsen getting his fifth save. The relief effort was marred a little with Stephen Pryor leaving the game with a strained lat muscle. Wedge is hoping the injury isn’t serious.
“We will re-evaluate him tomorrow,” Wedge said.
One thing that won’t have to be re-evaluated for now is the decision to put Maurer in the starting rotation.
Even after shaky start in Oakland and a horrendous first start at Safeco, the Mariners knew he would be fine.
“He’s gone through a lot of firsts like everybody does when they get to the big leagues, in particularly starting pitchers, and you know what, he’s going through one right now,” said Wedge, as cheers and screams erupted from the clubhouse where Maurer was receiving the traditional beer shower.
Maurer was still shivering from it postgame.
“It was cold,” he said. “They started it off with a nice bucket of ice water, then some milk and some ketchup.”
It felt like victory.
“It was nice to see him get his first win,” Wedge said. “He was noticeably different out there today with his poise and the way he handled himself.”