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March 25, 2013 at 4:53 PM

Mariners manager Eric Wedge: Brandon Maurer ‘reaffirmed’ some positive things

Mariners catcher Jesus Montero (right) hit a grand slam today for the 52nd home run this spring by his team. That's a new all-time Mariners record.

Mariners catcher Jesus Montero (right) hit a grand slam today for the 52nd home run this spring by his team. That’s a new all-time Mariners record.

This game stopped being a contest about 7 1/2 innings before it ended in a 16-0 win for the Mariners over the Cincinnati Reds. Jesus Montero hit a grand slam homer, drew a bases loaded walk and also legged out an infield single. That was the 52nd home run hit by the Mariners this spring, setting their all-time Cactus League mark.

Yep, nothing like a good blow to the head.

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Anyhow, he’s apparently OK after taking that bat off the noggin’ some 48 hours ago, so we’ll switch our focus to the mound. Brandon Maurer threw five scoreless innings of six-hit ball and took 90 pitches to do it while striking out seven and walking one. He remains very much in this rotation race and really, might have clinched a spot, which I did not think would happen a week ago.

But we’ve since seen the Mariners wave goodbye to Jon Garland and now, they’ve eliminated Erasmo Ramirez from the rotation race as well.

Mariners congratulate each other on the field after beating the Reds 16-0 in Goodyear, AZ.

Mariners congratulate each other on the field after beating the Reds 16-0 in Goodyear, AZ.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge just all-but-confirmed down on the field that Ramirez won’t begin the year in the rotation.

What it comes down to is, Ramirez didn’t recover so quickly from that two-inning drubbing he took at the hands of the Chicago Cubs last Thursday. The Mariners scratched an ensuing start he was scheduled for and now have pushed him back to a scheduled 50-pitch relief appearance on Wednesday.

“We have to build him back up,” Wedge said. “When we lost that time, we had him up to five or six innings before but it’s been a while. We had him throw a bullpen the other day and we’ll get him back out there.”

But there is no way Ramirez can be built up in time to start the season in the rotation. His pitch count is about half of what it needs to be. I asked Wedge whether he’d consider using Ramirez in the bullpen to start the season.

“I still want to build him up,” Wedge said. “We know he’s capable of piching in the bullpen for us. He did that for us last year as well as starting. But right now, I just want him to go out and pitch healthy. That’s the most improtant thing. My focus is on that right now.”

In other words, expect Ramirez to start the year in Class AAA.

Wedge said the rotation will go Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders for now, in that order. After that, you have Blake Beavan up to 100 pitches and Maurer at the 90 he threw today.

Jeremy Bonderman is scheduled to start tomorrow, but as I’ve written, the Mariners in a perfect world would likely want to see him keep building consistently for a few more weeks in Class AAA and then call him up later if he’s needed. Bonderman is still feeling his way back from a layoff since 2010.

Unlike Garland, he has no “out” clause to force any decisions and his only leverage would be to retire rather than accept a AAA assignment. So, let’s see how that plays out. The Mariners could have a roster spot free for him when they make the official call on Casper Wells or Jason Bay. But in the event they wind up making a late spring trade, it’s possible they could have somebody coming back who would be on the roster already and that would eliminate the free spot.

Amid this backdrop, you have Maurer looking like he might be headed north after all.

 

IMG_5791Wedge certainly didn’t sound like a man who’d seen anything wrong from the youngster, who spent last season with Class AA Jackson. Maurer allowed a plethora of baserunners the first few innings but managed to escape unscathed, something he’s made a habit of this spring and in the minors before that.

“I wouldn’t say it’s anything we haven’t seen,” Wedge said. “But it reaffirms some things we’ve seen in regards to making pitches in big situations. Even early on, if they put something together in those innings and they erupt for a few runs, it’s a different ballgame. So, for him to pitch the way he pitched and to settle in and have the time he had on the bench today and go out there and still be effective, it was very impressive.”

Maurer isn’t sure quite what the deal is with him seeming to do better once runners get on.

“I’m not sure if I’m doing anything different, or if I’m just making pitches when I need to make them,’’ Maurer said.

Maurer said he’s merely taking advice from former mound mate Garland, who told him — before he left last week and signed with Colorado — that getting out of a jam sometimes requires convincing yourself you can get just one out. That’s what Maurer says he does. He steps off the mound, looks at the light tower and asks himself if he can get a single hitter out.

Once he tells himself “Of course!” then he tries to do it before focusing on the next guy. Does he bear down a bit more with guys on base? Sure looks like it.

“I think so,’’ he said. “Maybe, a little bit. Just knowing that there’s a guy in scoring position, it’s like ‘OK, now it gets down to where it counts.’ ’’

So, should Maurer make the rotation? Sure seems like he’s about to.

Some other interesting tidbits. I asked Wedge about the reasons the team opted to offer a roster spot to relief pitcher Kameron Loe, who had an opt-out clause he could have exercised today had the Mariners not guaranteed him a job.

“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. For Kam, a sinkerballer, again, he can get two outs with one pitch. He continues to get better with his secondary stuff, in particular, the changeup. I think that when you talk about having another experienced guy down there — a guy that can come in and get a ground ball whether it be against right-handers or left-handers — there’s value to that.”

 

Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: brandon maurer; erasmo ramirez; eric wedge; jesus montero

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