Mariners win, split 4-game series with Rangers
Carl Willis asked Maurer to do one thing when he stepped on the mound on Sunday: Be Brandon Maurer.
Because both Willis and manager Eric Wedge knew that if Maurer simply did that, he’d have success at the big-league level.
Maurer pitched more like himself — the guy that forced his way into the Mariners rotation — tossing six innings, allowing three runs on five hits, while striking out five, walking one, and earning his first major league win in Seattle’s 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers at a sunny but chilly Safeco Field.
“We talked a couple days ago about today’s start and how he’s going to go out and be Brandon Maurer,” Willis said before Sunday’s game. “We didn’t let him get caught up into how to attack the Rangers or any of that stuff. We told him to go out and pitch his game.”
Maurer looked nothing like the nervous, over-throwing kid of his previous start that didn’t get past the first inning. It was very apparent when he pumped a 95 mph fastball by Craig Gentry on a 3-2 pitch for strike three and the second out of the game.
Even after Maurer walked the next hitter — Lance Berkman — there was no panic. He got ahead of Adrian Beltre and whipped another 95 mph fastball by the Rangers’ third baseman for strike three.
“It made me feel much more comfortable out there,” Maurer said of the first inning. “Just going out there and knowing my stuff will play.”
The Mariners also gave Maurer a little confidence with some run support. Maurer allowed a run in the top of the second on a Mitch Moreland RBI double. Seattle immediately answered with a run in the bottom of the inning with back-to-back doubles from Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager off Rangers starter Nick Tepesch. The Mariners took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning on Raul Ibanez’s a solo homer to right-center.
However, it looked as though Maurer might have lost his chance for a win. He allowed a pair of runs in the fifth inning — Lance Berkman drove home a run and another scored on a passed ball.
After a 1-2-3 sixth inning, Maurer was clearly done for the day at 97 pitches. He went into the dugout, still down 3-2.
But his teammates put him in line for the win.
A double by Seager and a bloop single by Jesus Montero tied the score at 3-3. Dustin Ackley put the Mariners up for good, lashing a single up the middle off Tepesch to score Montero.
“I was just glad we were able to get some runs on the board for the pitchers,” Ackley said. “I was just looking to hit a ball up the middle. I didn’t see a fastball up until that point. I was just trying to stay on the ball and battle.”
The quartet of Smoak, Montero, Seager and Ackley combined for six of the Mariners 10 hits in the game. All four have had their struggles in the first few days of the season so the production pleased Wedge.
“The way I envisioned this is the combination of the veterans doing their thing and the young kids continuing progress,” Wedge said. “That should happen. That will happen.”
The Mariners bullpen secured the win for Maurer. Four pitchers combined to work the final three innings with Tom Wilhelmsen getting his fifth save. The relief effort was marred when Stephen Pryor had to leave the game in the eighth inning with a strained lat muscle. Wedge is hoping the injury isn’t serious.
“We will re-evaluate him tomorrow,” Wedge said.
One thing that won’t have to be re-evaluated for now is the decision to put Maurer in the starting rotation.
Even after shaky start in Oakland and a horrendous first start at Safeco against the Astros, the Mariners knew he would be fine.
“He’s gone through a lot of firsts like everybody does when they get to the big leagues, particularly starting pitchers, and you know what, he’s going through one right now,” said Wedge, as cheers and screams erupted from the clubhouse where Maurer was receiving the traditional beer shower.
Maurer was still shivering from it postgame.
“It was cold,” he said. “They started it off with a nice bucket of ice water, then some milk and some ketchup.”
It felt like victory.
“It was nice to see him get his first win,” Wedge said. “He was noticeably different out there today with his poise and the way he handled himself.”
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