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 22-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 (top). And with Brandon Phillips on third base, Maurer threw a backdoor slider that froze former National League MVP Joey Votto for a called third strike to end the fifth inning (below).
It impressed his catcher Jesus Montero.
“He was unbelievable,” Montero said. “I know we were winning by a lot of runs, but he was like, ‘you know what, I don’t want anybody to hit a homer, a double or a base hit. He was 3-2 slider, 3-2 curveball, 3-2 change-up. It was 2-0 changeup, slider curveball. I was like, ‘whoa, this guy is good.”
“It was the first I’ve caught him for a lot of innings. He showed me yesterday he’s not afraid. He can throws those pitches. He can play in the big leagues right now. He’s a good pitcher.”
Maurer had a pretty simple mindset.
“You just can’t let them score,” Maurer said. “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. UPDATE: He’s supposed to pitch in a minor league game on Wednesday, instead of relief for Felix Hernandez in the Cactus League game.
Ramirez said his arm is fine and he still views himself as a starter. But he also is going to do what the team tells him.
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.”