DALLAS — A year ago, this might have affected Brandon Maurer, and not in a good way. Then again, a year ago, few things didn’t affect the talented young pitching prospect.
A bad pitch, a hit allowed, a missed call, anything and everything would make his heart beat race, his emotions fire and make the game turn into a swirling tornado that swept him up, never to return.
And now? Well, it’s getting better with each game, each inning and each pitch.
So when the Mariners announced that Maurer’s turn in the starting rotation was being skipped during the two-game series against the Rangers because of off days, he understood the reasons and began to prepare for a weeklong stint as a long reliever.
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“I will throw an extra bullpen session and have an extra leg- and upper-body workout,” he said.
He didn’t search for a deeper meaning to the move or wonder what it meant for his future. Instead, he just began preparing for the temporary role.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “I’ve done it before.”
But when he steps to the mound Saturday against the Houston Astros for his next scheduled start, Maurer hopes it will finally be the start that changes everything. The elusive complete effort with no troubles, no issues and no meltdowns. The type of start commensurate with his talent and potential.
Maurer has made 19 starts over the past two seasons and hasn’t quite had that defining start yet. The closest to one came last season when he notched one of his three victories as a starter. He threw 61
3 shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field, giving up seven hits, striking out six and walking one. Yet he couldn’t build on it. The next four starts were shaky and he was sent to Class AAA Tacoma on May 29.
This season, he has made five starts since being called up April 20 with uneven results, including a 6.00 ERA. There are times when it looks like he has figured it all out, but they can be fleeting. The five hitless innings in Miami, the ability to minimize damage on a bases-loaded jam against Houston or even lasting 71
3 innings despite giving up a barrage of hits against the Royals were all positives. Yet, the other factors took away from the good.
Is he close to figuring it all out?
“We hope so,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Obviously, the next step is up to him. He needs to go out and get it done. We can talk about how close we think he is, the intangibles that he brings, his stuff, but ultimately he’s got to perform on the field.”
Maurer grinned when told of McClendon’s sentiment.
“I feel the same way,” he said. “It’s frustrating. There are little pieces of stuff from every start that have been good. But there are one or two things that are holding me back.”
One of those things is a rabid competitive streak that can operate like a flamethrower when mixed with his dynamite-like emotions. It’s an intensity that is vastly different from his off-field persona of a laid-back surfer kid from California.
“I expect a lot from myself,” he said. “So when it doesn’t go my way, I get upset.”
It didn’t take much to set it off in a game. A walk, a cheap hit, a blown call by an ump or even a missed pitch could all start the simmering, which led to boiling as things continued to go wrong.
“Last year, I’d let it turn into a train wreck on me and it would keep building on and building on.”
The building would lead to more hits, more runs, big innings and destroyed starts. This year, it’s getting better. He was able to put a stop to a budding implosion in his start in Houston with the help of catcher John Buck.
“I threw whatever he called.”
Buck is new to the Mariners this year, but he heard the scouting report about Maurer and his emotions. He saw it first hand.
“He’s had trouble when guys get on; it seems like the game speeds up on him,” Buck said. “When nobody is on, his tempo is great and he executes his pitches. When guys got on, he was able to keep his tempo. He was able to put it back together. It took some maturity. He pitched. That was a step-forward start.”
Maurer could feel the difference. And he’s tried to carry it forward this season. It’s something to lean back on — an example of what to do.
“If I make a bad pitch or something happens, it’s not like, ‘There goes the inning, I’m about to get smashed,’ ” he said. “I know I can come back and make a better pitch — get a ground ball or a pop fly and get out of the inning.”
Now it’s just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis. Maurer might get only a few more starts at the big-league level to do so. With James Paxton progressing in his recovery from a strained latissimus dorsi, Maurer might have two, three starts before becoming the odd man out of the rotation.
Much in the same way he’s handling game situations, he’s not going to let that affect him. Pitching to stay in the major leagues usually won’t keep you in the big leagues. It’s something that he got caught up in last season. It was one of the reasons his emotions were also on high — the constant worry of what might come, instead of the focus on what is happening in the moment.
“I think it took quite a bit for me to realize that,” he said. “It’s not pitching to stay here. It’s pitching to go out and get a win. Those are two different mindsets.”
Is Maurer close to figuring it all out?
“To answer your question,” McClendon said, “yes, I think he’s close to figuring it out.”
|Brandon Maurer, by the numbers|
|Brandon Maurer has struggled in his first two major-league seasons.|
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or email@example.com.