By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Right-hander Brandon Maurer, after a 10-day layoff, failed to survive five innings Saturday night in what projected as a make-or-break start against Houston at Safeco Field.
Maurer gave up six runs in 4 1⁄3 innings, which leaves the Mariners with a question: Does he get another start? Or do the Mariners activate James Paxton from the disabled list after one rehab start at Class AAA Tacoma?
The answer could come as soon as today, and manager Lloyd McClendon painted a clear picture for Maurer prior to the game.
“He’s needs to pitch well,” McClendon acknowledged. “He should be well-rested. He should be strong. He’s built up, and I’m sure he’s ready to go. He’s just got to go out and do it.”
Maurer is the starter most at risk of losing his job as two of the organization’s top prospects, Paxton and right-hander Taijuan Walker, move toward a return to active duty from the disabled list.
The Mariners aligned Paxton’s rehab schedule at Tacoma to start Saturday, which positions him to slide into Maurer’s spot, if desired, as soon as next Thursday against the Angels.
Maurer’s latest stumble pushed his ERA to 6.99 through six starts since injuries to Paxton, and initial replacement Blake Beavan, prompted an April 20 recall from Tacoma.
Paxton allowed two earned runs and four hits in three innings Saturday in a 62-pitch outing against El Paso (Padres) at Cheney Stadium. He struck out five, walked two and threw 13 more pitches in the bullpen after exiting.
McClendon previously indicated Paxton’s return won’t hinge on results at Tacoma but the ability to throw roughly 90 pitches with no recurrence of the strained back muscle that forced him to the disabled list.
So where does that leave Maurer?
“We’ve been talking about this (with Maurer) for quite a while,” McClendon said. “Just throw strikes. Quality strikes. His stuff is plenty good. He’s just got to get over that hump and start throwing quality pitches.”
That didn’t happen Saturday.
Walker said Friday, after throwing 56 pitches in a simulated game, that he felt ready to test his recovery from a sore shoulder by beginning a rehab assignment next Wednesday at Tacoma.
McClendon confirmed Saturday that’s the Mariners’ tentative plan.
“If all checks out in the next day or so,” he said, “I think (Walker) will go out Wednesday.”
Walker is into his regular five-day routine following the simulated game. That means a bullpen workout prior to today’s series finale against the Astros. That should be the final test before a rehab assignment.
The stat-crunchers at the Elias Sports Bureau offered up this nugget after Felix Hernandez struck out nine in eight innings Friday in a 6-1 victory over the Astros:
“Since the start of the 2010 season, Hernandez has 25 starts of at least eight innings and nine or more strikeouts. Only two other pitchers have at least 15 starts of this type over that span: Cliff Lee (21) and Justin Verlander (15).”
Another stat: Friday was Hernandez’s 56th career start in which he went at least eight innings while allowing fewer than two runs. That leads all active pitchers.
Rookie center fielder James Jones extended his hitting streak to 14 games on Saturday, which is the longest active streak in the majors. He also extended his streak of recording at least one hit in all 15 of his career starts.
Second baseman Robinson Cano extended his career-best streak of reaching base at least once in 31 consecutive games. It was also the longest current streak in the majors.
On the radar
The Mariners are among many clubs taking a hard look at outfielder Gareth Morgan, who is currently playing in the Dominican Republic with the Canadian national junior team.
Morgan is generally viewed as the top high school prospect in Canada and projects as a likely pick in the early rounds of next month’s draft.
One point to note: Six years ago, Milwaukee used its first pick to select infielder Brett Lawrie, then the top Canadian prep prospect who was on a similar trip to the Dominican with the national junior team.
That pick came, in part, on the recommendation of scout Tom McNamara to scouting director Jack Zduriencik. McNamara is now the Mariners’ director of amateur scouting, and Zduriencik is the club’s general manager.
McNamara is currently in the Dominican.
Robinson Cano entered Saturday’s game ranked second in the American League batting race by a fraction of a point after raising his average to .326 by going 2-for-4 in Friday’s victory.
Cano was actually at .32608, which placed him .00012 behind Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler (.32620). Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera was third at .32571.
All three rounded off to .326.
Kinsler then went 3-for-5 Saturday afternoon in a loss to the Tigers, which raised his average to .333. Cabrera went 0-for-2 and dropped to .322.
The Mariners haven’t had a batting champion since Ichiro Suzuki batted .372 in 2004. They haven’t had a player finish above .300 since Suzuki batted .315 in 2010.
Turn back the clock
The Mariners and Astros wore 1979 replica uniforms Saturday for the centerpiece game in the “Turn Back the Clock” weekend at Safeco Field.
On May 24, 1979, the Mariners were at then-Royals Stadium in Kansas City. They sent lefty Floyd Bannister out to face Dennis Leonard. Bannister exited after giving up four runs in four innings.
The Mariners stung Leonard for three runs in the eighth and pulled even at 4-4. Willie Horton’s two-run homer capped the comeback, but Odell Jones surrendered an RBI single to Amos Otis in the bottom of the inning.
Leonard pitched a scoreless ninth for a complete-game victory. The loss dropped the Mariners to 15-29 on the way to a 65-97 record.
Entering Saturday, the Mariners were one of three American League club with three players who had 27 or more RBI (Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager with 28; Justin Smoak with 27). The others were Oakland and Minnesota … The Mariners carried a 53-inning errorless streak into Saturday’s game, which dated to an error by shortstop Brad Miller on May 16. Their season-best streak was 61 innings from April 1-10, which was bookended by errors by Cano
It was 25 years ago Sunday — May 25, 1989 — that the Mariners acquired left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson from Montreal in a five-player trade that sent lefty Mark Langston to the Expos.
The Mariners also got right-handers Brian Holman and Gene Harris. Montreal also received a player to be named later. The deal was completed July 31 when the Expos got right-hander Mike Campbell.
The Mariners conclude their four-game weekend series against Houston at 1:10 p.m. today at Safeco Field. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (3-0 with a 1.76 ERA) will start against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel (5-2 and 2.92).
Houston originally had Keuchel slotted for Saturday’s game but opted to give him another day of rest.
The Mariners continue their 11-game homestand with a 1:10 p.m. game Monday against the Los Angeles Angels.