Maurer making most of competition for roster spot
Right-hander is lone Mariners pitching prospect still in big league camp
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brandon Maurer was sitting at his locker in the Mariners' clubhouse, a lone figure in an area that had previously been teeming with activity every morning for the past month.
The string of lockers -- previously occupied by fellow pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Andrew Carraway, Yoervis Medina and Bobby LaFromboise -- were now eerily empty, having been cleared out over the weekend when the youngsters were all sent down to Minor League camp.
"I feel like I'm bad luck. Three that side, three this side," Maurer said, nodding his head both directions. "It's not good."
Of course, while it's hard losing his buddies, this is actually very good for Maurer. The 22-year-old from Costa Mesa, Calif., is still hanging tough in the heated competition for a Mariners roster spot. Though he's never pitched above Double-A ball, the big right-hander has opened eyes with an impressive spring on the heels of being the Southern League Pitcher of the Year last season for Jackson.
Maurer is scheduled to start Tuesday night against the Giants in a 7:05 p.m. PT game (which can be seen on MLB.TV) at Peoria Stadium as the Mariners begin zeroing in on their final roster decisions.
"All I know is I just have to go out there and throw well on Tuesday," Maurer said. "That's all I can worry about. I've got to get through five [innings]. That's the approach I've tried to take the whole time. Just worry about myself and not all that other stuff."
In four Cactus League appearances, Maurer has gone 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA, allowing just one run and 10 hits in 10 innings, with five walks and 11 strikeouts.
"He was good again," manager Eric Wedge said after Maurer's last outing. "The baseball is doing what he wants it to do and, obviously, it's good stuff. So he's been pretty impressive.
"We want to see how he handles himself as a young pitcher, how his stuff plays against big league hitters and how he continues to climb in regard to how we build him up and how he handles different situations and works through those situations. So far, we've seen all good things."
Maurer still figures to be a long shot to make the rotation coming out of camp, given the club also has returning pitchers Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez, as well as veterans Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman competing for the final two openings behind Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders.
Maurer could easily find himself at Triple-A Tacoma, the natural progression after his 9-2 season with a 3.20 ERA at Jackson. But the Mariners like what they've seen this spring and are still looking.
For his part, Maurer is just trying to continue learning everything possible from this first Major League camp so he'll be a better pitcher wherever he winds up.
"I'm really trying to get my curveball over for a strike, and not just be an in-the-dirt pitch," he said. "I worked hard on that in the bullpen this week and it felt pretty good."
Maurer has not been afraid to ask advice of the veterans, who are willing to mentor, even though they're competing for the same jobs.
"The other day I talked to Garland about just how to slow the game down when it gets too fast," Maurer said. "He gave me some good stuff. ... Obviously, taking a deep breath, maybe picking a spot out in the stadium or a light and just giving it a good three-second stare."
Little things can add up to big things when youngsters find themselves competing at the highest level. Maurer was pitching against Pensacola and Montgomery in the Southern League a year ago. He'll be staring down the defending World Series champion Giants on Tuesday in his first night game of the spring.
"I'm excited about that," he said. "It'll be good to throw under the lights. That always gets your adrenaline pumping a little bit more. It'll be fun."
When he's done, Maurer will head back to the rental house he shares with five other Mariners prospects about 10 minutes from the Peoria Complex. Of that group, only he and reliever Logan Bawcom are still in Major League camp.
Maurer's parents came to visit last week, saw him pitch three innings against the A's, and then returned to California. His mom, who has always collected all his newspaper articles in a scrapbook, was among those affected by his success story.
"She said with all the stuff people are writing, she's had a tough time keeping up," he said with a grin.
Indeed, it's been an interesting and well-chronicled spring for the former 23rd-round Draft pick. His more-heralded teammates -- including the Big Three of Walker, Hultzen and Paxton -- have all been sent packing already. Two of those -- Walker and Paxton -- are his housemates. All are his friends.
The guys Maurer is left competing with are all Major League veterans to some degree. Garland is a former All-Star. Bonderman and Garland have both pitched in the World Series. Beavan won 11 games last year for Seattle, and Ramirez was the guy in Maurer's shoes last year at this time, sticking and competing as other more-publicized prospects were all sent down.
"It's very high," Maurer said of the competition. "But I really haven't thought about it much. I'll probably do that after camp, maybe step back and kind of realize what we had here."
For now, Maurer just reports to work in a less-crowded clubhouse and goes about his business. There won't be as much banter with buddies in the mornings this week, but that might be the only downside to what has been a very bright spring.
"It's been very positive," Maurer said. "It's been a learning experience, but it's been good."