Maurer continues to pitch for rotation

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comMarch 26, 2013 

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Eric Wedge has a pretty good idea of what the Seattle Mariners starting rotation is going to be when they open the season April 1 in Oakland.

Is he going to share that information? No.

Maybe drop a few hints? Nope.

Perhaps announce that Brandon Maurer has pitched his way into the rotation with yet another solid spring outing after Monday’s 16-0 win over the Reds at Goodyear Park? Nice try, but not happening.

What Wedge will say is that he’s slotting Felix Hernandez as his No. 1 starter with Hisashi Iwakuma as the No. 2 and Joe Saunders at No. 3.

But he’s not going to say much on the fourth and fifth spots till

he’s ready. And that might not be till the day off before opening day.

“We are trying to go all the way through,” he said. “Part of my discipline is to keep your mind open till the very end. The very end is approaching quickly. We’ll see how the next couple days play out, but it’s safe to say we are getting very close to the decisions we need to make.”

Maurer has made decision-making for Wedge and the Mariners more interesting.

The 24-year-old prospect put together another solid outing, tossing five shutout innings, giving up six hits, while striking out seven and walking one in 90 pitches.

“He threw the ball well against a good group of hitters over there,” Wedge said.

While the innings were scoreless, they weren’t perfect. Maurer allowed runners on base every inning. But he wouldn’t let one cross the plate. He got some defensive help, but he also made some big pitches. He struck out Ryan Ludwick on a high fastball with the bases loaded to end the third inning. And with Brandon Phillips on third, Maurer threw a backdoor slider that froze former National League MVP Joey Votto for a called third strike to end the fifth inning.

“You just can’t let them score,” Maurer said of his mindset. “You can’t let them put that run on the board. Maybe I bear down more. I’m not sure if I’m doing anything different or if I’m just making pitches when I need to make them.”

Of course, having runners on base isn’t as bad when you have a lead that balloons from three to six to 10 runs. While the Mariners seemed to be batting around every inning, Maurer didn’t let those prolonged breaks on the bench affect him on the mound. Some pitchers get cold or lose their rhythm.

“It’s not that bad; you just throw a few extra warm-up pitches,” he said.

Wedge was pleased.

“Sometimes it can be difficult when you have a game like (that) and you are sitting in here for a while, to be able to hang on to and maintain that consistency,” Wedge said. “That was pretty impressive.”

But was it enough to put Maurer in the rotation? Wedge would not say. And Maurer wouldn’t think of it.

“Like I said, I’m only thinking about my next start,” Maurer said.

That will come in the Mariners’ spring training finale Saturday in Salt Lake City against the Colorado Rockies.

Even before that start, it seems like he’s done enough.

Maurer has appeared in six games, pitching 20 innings and giving up two earned runs. He’s struck out 20 and walked six.

Maurer’s competition has been culled. Jon Garland was allowed to leave the team and has signed with the Rockies. And it appears Erasmo Ramirez is behind in the competition. He apparently suffered some mild arm stiffness after his most recent outing Thursday, and the Mariners slowed down his throwing schedule. He’s supposed to pitch in relief Wednesday.

Now behind with his pitch limit, Ramirez likely won’t be ready for opening day as a starter. Could he pitch out of the bullpen as a middle to long reliever – something the Mariners don’t have?

“We know he’s capable of pitching in the bullpen; obviously he did that for us last year as well as starting,” Wedge said. “Right now, I just want him to go out and pitch healthy. That’s the most important thing. My focus is on that right now.”

It leaves Jeremy Bonderman and Blake Beavan as the other candidates for the two spots. Beavan gave up 16 hits in his last start while getting his pitch count up to 100.

Bonderman will start today against the Kansas City Royals. It could be pivotal for him to make the team.

“I just want him to keep doing what he’s been doing,” Wedge said. “He’s done nothing but progress (during) this camp.”

LOE ADDED TO ROSTER

The Mariners added nonroster invitee Kameron Loe to their 40-man roster, meaning the 6-foot-7 reliever has earned a spot in the bullpen. Loe has been solid all spring, making nine appearances and giving up two earned runs in 10 innings with 13 strikeouts. To make room for Loe, the Mariners placed Josh Kinney on the 60-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his rib cage/upper back. Kinney can’t officially start his clock on the disabled list until April 1.

Wedge thinks Loe’s big league seasoning, his ability to pitch more than one inning and ability to get groundball outs will be invaluable

“He’s an experienced guy,” Wedge said. “A guy who we feel can give us some length if we need it. You try to have all types in your bullpen. Kam, he’s a sinkerballer, he can get two outs with one pitch.”

SPRING TRAINING RECAP

MARINERS 16, REDS 0 (at Goodyear Ballpark)

The facts: Brandon Maurer made another strong case for inclusion in the starting rotation, pitching five shutout innings, giving up six hits and striking out seven while walking one. For the spring, Maurer has allowed two runs in 20 innings. He also got plenty of run support, with the Seattle offense scoring 16 runs on 16 hits, including two more home runs to push Seattle’s major league-leading total to 52 this spring. The home run total set a franchise record, surpassing the old record of 51 set in 1999.

Play of the game: In the fourth inning, Jesus Montero drew a bases-loaded walk against Wilkin De La Rosa, which showed impressive patience for the free-swinging catcher. But in the fifth inning, Montero stepped to the plate against De La Rosa with bases loaded again, and there would be no walking — just home-run trotting. Montero crushed a fastball deep to left field over the grass berm and out of Goodyear Ballpark for a grand slam. Montero, who was playing his first game since taking a bat to the head, went 3-for-3 with six RBI.

Who was hot: All of Seattle’s hitters were hot, but Michael Saunders couldn’t be much hotter. The big outfielder ripped a single, a double and a homer in his first three at-bats. He didn’t hit for the cycle but did score three runs. And he drove in two more. Not to be outdone, Justin Smoak went 3-for-3 with a two-run double, an RBI single and two walks. He pushed his batting average to .431 this spring.

Who was not: Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey got rocked by the Mariners. He pitched 3 innings, allowing nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits with two walks and five strikeouts. In two starts against the Mariners this spring, he’s allowed 12 runs and 15 hits in 7 innings.

Quotable: “He’s more under control in batting practice. He has a better mindset of what he’s trying to do and a better focus when he’s doing his work. I think you are seeing that start to leak into the game.” – Mariners manager Eric Wedge on Montero.

On tap: The Mariners return to Peoria Stadium to host the Kansas City Royals at 1:05 this afternoon. Right-hander Jeremy Bonderman will start for Seattle. Also scheduled to pitch are Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen, Kameron Loe and Stephen Pryor. The Royals will start left-hander Bruce Chen. The game will be broadcast on 710-AM radio.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com

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