SEATTLE — So how much longer do the Seattle Mariners stick with Brandon Maurer after watching him cough up another fur ball Thursday in a 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field?
Maurer lasted just four innings but put the Mariners in a five-run hole that proved too much to overcome — especially when playing without Robinson Cano, who was scratched because he wasn’t feeling well.
Cano wasn’t alone by end of the night.
Maurer walked the game’s first hitter, which turned into a run. After working around trouble in the second and third, he cratered in a four-run fourth.
All four runs scored with two outs. Erick Aybar’s three-run homer on a red-zone fastball was the key blow. Maurer (1-4) didn’t return for the fifth, and five runs in four innings pushed his ERA to 7.52.
The Mariners figure to sift through possible alternatives before Maurer’s turn comes around again.
Possibilities include Erasmo Ramirez, who worked six solid innings Thursday for Triple-A Tacoma. Ramirez’s overall work for the Rainiers (1-3 with a 4.55 ERA) hasn’t screamed promotion, but, well, who knows?
Maybe Maurer gets another look Tuesday in Atlanta.
The Mariners’ attack, sans
Cano, went nine up and down through three innings against right-hander Matt Shoemaker, whom the Angels recalled Wednesday from Triple-A Salt Lake (which is playing in Tacoma).
Life sprouted in the fourth when Michael Saunders, who replaced Cano as the No. 3 hitter, drove a two-run homer to right. Saunders also had a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
That was about it, though, until Kyle Seager’s two-run homer in the ninth made it 7-5.
Shoemaker (3-1) worked into the sixth before Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin, Joe Smith, Fernando Salas and Ernesto Frieri closed out the victory.
Actually, Salas did little more than serve up Seager’s homer in the ninth, which forced the Angels to summon Frieri, who got the final two outs for his eighth save in 10 chances.
Still, the Mariners never overcame Maurer’s early struggles, settled for a split in the four-game series and slipped back below .500 at 26-27.
Maurer opened the game by walking Kole Calhoun, a .203 hitter who went to third when Aybar lashed a single to right. Mike Trout’s sacrifice fly, on a line drive to right, made it 1-0.
Aybar strolled to second with a two-out steal when neither middle infielder covered second base, but Maurer ended the inning when Howie Kendrick flied to right.
The Angels threatened again in the second, when an error by shortstop Brad Miller and a walk put runners at first and second with one out, but Grant Green grounded into a double play.
It was still 1-0 when C.J. Cron rocked a one-out triple off the center-field wall in the fourth. Maurer had a chance to escape after striking out Hank Conger, but Green lined a two-out RBI single into center.
It got worse.
Calhoun drew a walk, and a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. Aybar worked the count to 3-2 and, with Trout on deck, got a fastball down the middle from Maurer.
Aybar didn’t miss it. His 388-foot drive to right easily cleared the wall for a three-run homer and a 5-0 lead.
The Mariners finally got a runner when James Jones opened the fourth with a bloop double that fell just beyond Trout’s diving attempt in center.
Shoemaker struck out Nick Franklin, but Saunders drove a two-run homer to right. And it was 5-2. Justin Smoak followed with a drive to deep center that Trout caught at the wall.
Dominic Leone replaced Maurer to start the fifth and surrendered a one-out triple to Raul Ibañez on a sinking liner to center that should have been a single.
Jones tried for a diving catch, didn’t come close and the ball got by him. Leone pitched around the mistake by retiring the next two hitters on a pop and a grounder.
Leone wasn’t as fortunate in the sixth after Calhoun sliced a double to left. Singles by Aybar and Trout extended the lead to 6-2.
The Mariners tried to answer later in the inning, when singles by Miller and Jones put runners at first and second with no outs. A wild pitch moved the runners up a base.
Shoemaker struck out Franklin, for the third time, before the Angels went to the bullpen for Jepsen.
Saunders collected his third RBI on a sacrifice fly to deep left before Green ended the inning with a diving catch on a slicing Smoak drive to left.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker reported nothing more than ordinary soreness Thursday, one day after testing his recovery from a sore shoulder by working three innings in a rehab start at Triple-A Tacoma.
“It’s sore,” he said, “but it’s the normal soreness in the right spots. It’s nothing bad. I feel like I pitched yesterday.”
That doesn’t mean a return to the big-league rotation is imminent.
“He’s rusty,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Stuff is good, but he’s rusty. It’s going to take time. Walk (Walker) didn’t have much of a spring training. None really. A couple of simulated games here and there.
“He was on his way back before the soreness (resurfaced in mid-April). It’s going to take some time. We’ve got to get the rust off. I think the worst thing we could do is rush this young man back.”
McClendon said it’s likely Walker will require at least one or two more rehab starts — and to pitch effectively in those starts.
“If he was healthy in spring training,” McClendon said, “he’d have to make the club. Nothing was given. I think we’re under the assumption that he was given a spot on this club, and that’s just not the case.
“Now, I want him to do (well). Believe me, I want him here. But he’s got to prove that he’s healthy. He’s got to get the rust off. And he’s got to be ready to compete at this level on a consistent basis.
“It’s going to take a little time.”
Even so, Walker’s timetable now projects a quicker return than left-hander James Paxton, who was diagnosed with inflammation in his shoulder after pitching three innings Saturday in a rehab start.
Even in a best-case scenario, Paxton appears unlikely to return before mid-to-late June. His original injury, suffered April 8, was a strained back muscle.
Walker, 21, is generally viewed as the organization’s top prospect and projected as a likely candidate for the rotation before experiencing shoulder soreness in February.
The problem returned after he made two rehab starts in early April. His start Wednesday was his first game action since April 9. He worked two scoreless innings before yielding four runs on two homers in the third.
Walker also cited “rust” as his primary problem.
“It was that third inning,” he said, “I was leaving everything up. I wasn’t really locating my fastball, so I wasn’t able to throw anything else.”
Plans call for Walker to throw a routine bullpen session before Friday’s game against Detroit and, barring any setbacks, pitch again Monday — presumably for Tacoma at El Paso.
The Mariners scratched second baseman Robinson Cano from the lineup a little more than two hours before first pitch and cited “he’s not feeling well” as the reason.
Cano had started all 52 previous games and had appeared in 1,172 of 1,186 games since the start of the 2007 season. No player has appeared in more games during that span.
The Mariners compensated by shifting Nick Franklin from designated hitter to second base. Franklin also moved to second in the lineup, while right fielder Michael Saunders dropped from second to Cano’s No. 3 slot.
Stefen Romero replaced Franklin as the DH.
The Mariners open the concluding portion of their 11-game homestand at 7:10 p.m. Friday with the first of three weekend games against the Detroit Tigers at Safeco Field.
The series starts with a marquee pitching match-up of two All-Star right-handers: Hisashi Iwakuma (3-1, 2.39 ERA) against Detroit’s Justin Verlander (5-4, 4.04).
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