PEORIA, Ariz. — Brandon Maurer exited manager Eric Wedge’s office trying not to smile too much or act too happy. He walked fast, without running, to grab his phone from his locker. With phone in hand, he speed-walked out of the Mariners’ clubhouse and into the Arizona sunshine — he was about to make one of the most enjoyable phone calls in his life.
Maurer got to call his parents back in Southern California and tell them that he was going to be member of the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation when the 2013 season opens on Monday in Oakland.
“It was good,” he said of the call. “I think my mom was getting a little choked up and my dad was rambling on about stuff.”
As expected, Wedge finalized his five-man rotation by naming Maurer and Blake Beavan his fourth and fifth starters. They will join Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders.
It’s an impressive accomplishment for the 22-year-old Maurer, considering in 2012 he was pitching for Double-A Jackson.
“He came in here and he took it,” Wedge said. “He had a great camp. You’re talking about a young man that has multiple plus-pitches. And the way it worked out, he faced a lot of big league lineups. In regard to how it played out, with the different teams that he pitched against, he handled them well. He showed great stuff, had great poise and had some
presence out there. So, he came in and took it.”
Maurer outpitched everyone in the competition for the spot, including veterans Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman, holdovers Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez and his more heralded fellow prospects — Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen.
Maurer posted a 3-1 record in six appearances this spring, including three starts. In 20 innings, he allowed two earned runs for a 0.90 ERA with 22 strikeouts and six walks.
“It’s definitely been a huge learning experience,” Maurer said. “Having success was a positive part of that. I was just trying to go out there and battle through every game and work on pitches and get where I need to be to start the season.”
He becomes the first Mariners pitcher to jump from Double-A to the major league opening day rotation since Mike Hampton and John Cummings both did it in 1993.
For being so young, there’s a maturity to Maurer. He pitches and carries himself like a professional.
“It’s a great testament to him and his upbringing, but it’s also a great testament to our developmental system and all the coaches and managers who have been part of his development,” Wedge said.
As Maurer often points out, he has blossomed from a stubborn thrower into the pitcher who made the rotation.
He was far from a sure-thing prospect when he was picked in the 23rd round of the 2008 draft out of Orange Lutheran High School in Orange County, Calif.
His path to the rotation had a few detours due to injuries. He missed all of 2010 with elbow issues and then had the same elbow problems come up in 2011, limiting his appearances.
Then 2012 was a breakout season. He posted a 9-2 record with a 3.20 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 1372/3 innings for Double-A Jackson. He was named the Mariners’ minor league pitcher of the year.
“It’s been a good ride,” Maurer said. “I’ve learned so much every year. This year, I’ve felt like a pitcher more than I have ever before.”
Wedge chose to put Maurer in the fourth slot instead of the fifth to let him make his debut in Oakland on Thursday, April 4. That first start might be a little easier in the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum instead of the bandbox known as U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago against the White Sox the following day.
“I feel like it’s a good spot for him,” Wedge said. “It’s the final day in Oakland; it’s a day game. So, I feel like it’s a good spot for him in regard to that it’s someplace he’s been settled in for a few days and he can get up and come to the ballpark.”
Beavan will start on Friday, April 5, against the White Sox.
The who, where and when didn’t really matter to Beavan. He was still giddy from meeting with Wedge and being told he made the rotation. The thrill of being told you are on the team has not worn off.
“It’s still the same,” Beavan said. “It doesn’t change. Maybe when you become arbitration-eligible or come in as a big free agent it might be different.”
Even though he’s got big league experience, there was no guarantee he’d make the team or the rotation.
“I told (pitching coach) Carl (Willis) that (this is) the most anxiety I’ve ever felt in a camp,” he said.
Beavan’s numbers weren’t great this spring. In his most recent outing, he gave up 16 hits in six innings. But Wedge likes Beavan’s durability and toughness.
“One thing about Blake is, he’s never satisfied,” Wedge said. “He’s always working to get better. And he finds a way to win ballgames. He’s already gained some great experience in his young career. So, that, on top of some the adjustments he’s made and continues to make, that’s why he’s on this ballclub.”
With Maurer and Beavan in the rotation, that meant Ramirez and Bonderman would not make the opening day team. The team optioned Ramirez to Tacoma and re-assigned Bonderman to minor league camp.
Ramirez, a right-hander, started and threw three controlled innings in a minor league game on Wednesday after being slowed by soreness in the triceps of his throwing arm. He will continue to build arm strength and pitch in the Rainiers starting rotation.
“He’s still working his way back,” Wedge said. “He just needs to go out and continue to pitch and (build) himself back up.”
Wedge hopes that Bonderman will join Ramirez in Tacoma to start the season. Bonderman signed as a minor-league free agent after retiring because of injuries two years ago. He had elbow surgery last year, pitched well at times this spring and did enough that the Mariners hope to keep him in their organization. They gave Bonderman a few days to think about what he wants to do.
“We really want him to keep going,” Wedge said. “That’s what we feel like he needs to do. He’s been very impressive in this camp. But he, too, is still building himself up and working his way back. But you’ve seen the progression from the first bullpen (session) or the first game, to where he was the other day.”
Tuesday, when Bonderman started, it became evident that his return was still a work in progress. Bonderman lost velocity and movement and began to labor after 75 pitches. The Mariners want him to go to Tacoma, pitch in the rotation and build up his stamina and arm strength.
“We really feel like if he goes down and he pitches like we hope he does, that he’s going to pitch for us in the big leagues this year,” Wedge said. “I still feel like he’s got a lot of good days ahead of him.”
With the rotation finalized, the only remaining roster battle is for the last outfield spot between Casper Wells and Jason Bay.
“That’s the final decision we have,” Wedge said. “We are letting it run as far as it can run. It’s coming soon.”
SPRING TRAINING RECAP
MARINERS 10, DODGERS 7 (AT PEORIA STADIUM)
The facts: The Mariners wrapped up their Cactus League home schedule with a win and a nice ovation from the 8,852 fans in attendance. Michael Morse hit his eighth home run of the spring, blasting a two-run homer to left off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. The eight homers ties a Mariners’ spring training record set by Mike Wilson in 2009. Morse’s homer gave the Mariners a total of 55 this spring – most in baseball.
Play of the game: Nate Tenbrink isn’t exactly a household name for Mariners fans. The 26-year-old first baseman has never played above Double-A Jackson. He missed parts of the last two seasons with elbow and spinal fractures. But on Wednesday, he got his chance to come up big – and came through. With the bases full in the sixth inning, Tenbrink yanked a double down the right-field line to score all three runners and break the game open.
Who was hot: Manager Eric Wedge was hot — and not from the sun. He was miffed about home plate umpire Seth Buckminster. After a few borderline pitches were called balls, Felix Hernandez shook his head and said something to Buckminster. The discussion escalated with Buckminster, normally a Triple-A umpire in the International League, yelling back at Hernandez. Wedge had seen enough with the confrontation and inserted himself into the discussion. Wedge was ejected moments later after a few heated words. As he jogged off the field, Mariners fans gave him a standing ovation.
Who was not: Pitcher Ted Lilly, who is part of the glut of starting pitching for the Dodgers that manager Don Mattingly must choose from, was far from sharp. Pitching in relief, Lilly gave up seven runs on six his with three walks in 2 innings to push his spring earned-run average to 4.18.
Quotable: “That’s my first spring training toss. There was some back and forth with him and Felix, and I’m just not going to let that happen. It’s as simple as that.” – Wedge on his ejection.
On tap: The Mariners play their final Cactus League game in Arizona at 12:05 p.m. today. Seattle travels to Mesa to play Chicago in the Cubs’ last game at HoHoKam Park. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will start for Seattle. Carter Capps and Lucas Luetge are also scheduled to pitch. Chicago will start right-hander Carlos Villanueva. The game will be broadcast on 710-AM.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish email@example.com