He's only 22 and hasn't thrown a pitch in a major-league game, but Brandon Maurer has a shot at one of two open spots in Seattle's rotation.
PEORIA, Ariz. — One of the more compelling pitchers trying to crack the Mariners’ rotation usually won’t play into the hype.
Try to get Brandon Maurer to admit he’s stunned at having made it this far, or nervous about his next mound opportunity and he’ll shrug it off as if he’s just happy to be here.
Mention to the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Class AA right-hander that he’s outlasted the team’s so-called minor-league “Big 3″ of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, and he’ll tell you they’re his roommates here and none of them are keeping score.
But mention superheroes and Maurer starts to crack. When a television reporter asked Maurer after his Cactus League outing Tuesday night whether the Big 3 should be renamed “The Fantastic Four” and include him, he finally bit.
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“I want to be The Torch, if anyone asks,” he deadpanned.
It took a moment for the reporter to realize Maurer was referencing one of the four characters from the comic-book series and movie. She quickly recovered and asked him which characters the other Big 3 pitchers would play.
“Probably, Hultzen would be the Jessica Alba,” Maurer said, referring to the actress who plays the female superhero. “Taijuan (Walker) as the stretchy guy and then The Thing could be Pax (Paxton). Yeah, we’ll go with that.”
And so far, the Mariners continue to go with Maurer, 22, as one of five candidates for two open spots in the rotation. Maurer is 2-1 with a 1.20 earned-run average in five spring outings, with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings.
Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan and nonroster starters Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman also hope to land in the rotation.
Bonderman threw five innings in a minor-league game against the Royals on Wednesday — an off-day for his team — giving up a run on five hits while striking out four and throwing 76 pitches.
Garland pitches Thursday night against the Cubs in a key outing for him. He was lit up by The Netherlands last week. The 33-year-old right-hander has an out clause in his contract that he can exercise starting Friday if the Mariners tell him he has little shot at a job. Other teams have expressed interest in Garland. and it’s possible he could leave if told he needs Class AAA seasoning.
With Bonderman, 30, there’s likely to be less outside interest, and it appears some time at AAA Tacoma might help him. He hasn’t pitched since 2010 because of injuries.
Maurer, the Mariners’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season — 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA for AA Jackson — is the only one of the group with no big-league experience. But the Mariners have a fair bit of experience in the rotation already with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders, meaning there could be an outside shot for a young arm with upside to sneak in.
Maurer continued to make his case Tuesday, holding the defending World Series-champion San Francisco Giants to a run on five hits over five innings in front of a packed Peoria Stadium crowd of 11,188. On a day his four-seam fastball wasn’t working well, Maurer went to his sinker more often, as well as his curveball, changeup and slider.
“I just didn’t have the control, so I wasn’t trying to overthrow anything because usually it tends to get wild when I do that,” Maurer said.
Teams like it when a young pitcher makes those kinds of adjustments, rather than panic in a huge spring test in front of a large crowd.
“I got a little nervous out there, as anyone would, but once I got that first inning under my belt it was, ‘OK, let’s roll,’ ” said Maurer, who had help that opening frame from a 3-6-3 double play started by first baseman Kendrys Morales.
Maurer said the play helped him exhale and focus on what he does best. And the Mariners were again impressed.
“With a young pitcher, you like to be able to see him throw a couple of pitches, be a little bit out of sync and then fix it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “And not have to take two or three hitters and something that generates into a (big) inning. So, that was nice to see him do that.”
Maurer’s family in Newport Beach, Calif., got to see the game, which was televised.
“I think they were pretty stoked that it was on TV and they got to watch it in person, instead of online with the tracker,” Maurer said.
But ask him whether they are at least succumbing to the late-camp stress he seems to casually dismiss, and Maurer once again shrugs.
“It’s their first time too, kind of, I guess,” he said. “So, I mean, we’re all not really sure what to expect. We’re all just having fun. They’re having fun, I’m having fun, we’re all just happy. No complaints.”
Spring training statistics