PEORA, Ariz. – The pitcher overshadowed by “The Big 3” prospects last season is now the only one who remains in major league camp with the Seattle Mariners.
On Thursday, Brandon Maurer made another strong push to be considered for a spot in the Seattle starting rotation, while Danny Hultzen was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton were re-assigned to minor league camp.
Maurer (2-1) threw four scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds and picked up a winning decision in the Mariners’ 8-7 victory at Peoria Stadium.
After Joe Saunders threw four forgettable innings left with the Mariners behind, 7-1, the 22-year-old came in and looked formidable. He allowed three hits and walked two while striking out four.
“It was a little different for Brandon coming out of the bullpen like that, but he knew he was going to pitch four innings and he did a great job,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He rushed through a couple pitches at times, but he was able to fix it and that’s a good sign.”
Maurer threw 51 pitches, 33 for strikes. He used his fastball, slider, curveball and change-up effectively.
“His stuff was good again, like it was his last outing,” Wedge said. “The baseball is doing what he wants it to do and obviously it’s good stuff. He’s very confident. He’s able to throw any pitch at any time. He’s been pretty impressive.”
So can Maurer make the rotation?
That’s still considered a long shot. With Jon Garland pitching well and close to 100 percent healthy, the Mariners would probably prefer to have his experience in the rotation and fill the other spot with either Erasmo Ramirez or Blake Beavan to go with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Saunders. But Maurer is forcing himself into the equation.
He has lowered his Cactus League earned run average to 0.90 in 10 innings.
What does the manager need to see from Maurer to keep him in consideration for the rotation?
“It’s a combination of things,” Wedge said. “One, how he handles himself as a young pitcher. Two, just the way his stuff plays against big-league hitters. And then you just look at how he continues to climb in regard to how we build him up and how he handles different situations and works through those situations. So far we’ve seen all good things.”
While Maurer was busy impressing, his young pitching teammates, dubbed “The Big 3” last spring, were packing up their stuff and heading to the minor league clubhouse.
Hultzen was optioned to Tacoma along with Hector Noesi, while Walker, Paxton and Jonathan Arias were optioned to minor league camp.
Hultzen was impressive in one of inning of work on Wednesday in Surprise, Ariz., against the Royals, but a minor hip flexor strain sidelined him for a week. Paxton and Walker both pitched Thursday morning in a “B” game in Goodyear against the Cleveland Indians.
Paxton pitched two innings, giving up four runs on five hits with two walks. But none of the runs were earned because of back-to-back errors by shortstop Nick Franklin.
Wedge found some things to be pleased about.
“Paxton was better today and we got Walker out there,” he said. “It was necessary for us to play those ‘B’ games in so we can get more reps.”
Paxton struggled in his previous outing, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning. On Thursday, his fastball was down in the strike zone and had good life.
“He’s always down. Sometimes he just misses consistently underneath the glove,” Wedge said. “He has a little bit different delivery, but it’s effective for him. We felt his release point was something he struggled with last time and he worked with it in the bullpen and was able to carry it into the game. He was consistently down, but on the knees.”
That’s something Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis wanted to see.
“He kept sticking it and sticking it and sticking it and that’s what you want to see a starting pitcher do, to be able to repeat, particularly with the fastball,” Wedge said. “Because of that, his secondary stuff is going to be better, too. It was just a couple innings, but I think he’s learned a great deal in his last couple outings.”
Walker allowed two runs on three hits in two innings. He was hurt by a few misplayed balls that were called hits, but should have been outs. He struck out four.
Walker and Paxton were optioned to minor league camp instead of being sent to a specific team because the Mariners are still trying to figure out their starting rotations for the Rainiers and the Double-A Jackson Generals. Because of an abundance of starting pitching in the system, there is a chance Walker and Paxton could be back in Jackson for a second straight season.
Casper Wells returned to the lineup after missing a few games with a stiff neck. He went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. … Kendrys Morales had two hits and an RBI in the Mariners’ win. … Oliver Perez looked sharp in his one inning of relief, allowing no hits and striking out one.