By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
GOODYEAR — Eric Wedge has a pretty good idea of what the Seattle Mariners starting rotation is going to be when they open the season on April 1 in Oakland.
Is he going to share that information? No.
Maybe drop a few hints? Nope.
Perhaps announce that Brandon Maurer has pitched his way into the rotation with yet another solid outing this spring in Monday’s 16-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Park? Nice try, but not happening.
What Wedge will say is that he’s slotting Felix Hernandez as his No. 1 starter with Hisashi Iwakuma as the No. 2 and Joe Saunders at No. 3.
But he’s not going to say much on the fourth and fifth spots until he’s ready. And that might not be until the off day before opening day.
“We’re trying to go all the way through,” Wedge said. “Part of my discipline is to keep your mind open until the very end. The very end is approaching quickly. We’ll see how the next couple days play out, but it’s safe to say we are getting very close to the decisions we need to make.”
Maurer has made Wedge and the Mariners’ decision-making more interesting.
The 24-year-old prospect put together another solid outing, pitching five shutout innings, allowing six hits, striking out seven, walking one in a 90- pitch outing.
“He threw the ball well against a good group of hitters over there,” Wedge said.
Maurer wasn’t perfect. The right-hander had runners on base every inning. He got some defensive help, but he also made some big pitches. He struck out Ryan Ludwick on a high fastball with the bases loaded to end the third inning. And with Brandon Phillips on third, Maurer threw a backdoor slider that froze former National League MVP Joey Votto for a called third strike to end the fifth inning.
“You just can’t let them score,” Maurer said of his mindset. “You can’t let them put that run on the board. Maybe I bear down more. I’m not sure if I’m doing anything different or if I’m just making pitches when I need to make them.”
He did pick up a little mental trick from veteran pitcher Jon Garland before Garland left the team.
“He told me, ‘Can I get one out,’” Maurer said. “So I will turn around look at the (scoreboard) and ask myself, ‘Can I get one out? Well, yeah, I can get one out.’ And I try to go hitter by hitter.”
But was it enough to put Maurer in the rotation? Wedge would not say. And Maurer isn’t worried.
“Like I said, I’m only thinking about my next start,” Maurer said.
That will come in the Mariners final spring training game on March 30 in Salt Lake City against the Rockies.
It seems Maurer has done enough.
Maurer has appeared in six games, pitching 20 innings, allowing two earned runs. He’s struck out 20 and walked six.
Maurer’s competition has also been weaned. Garland opted out of his contract and signed with the Rockies. Erasmo Ramirez apparently suffered some mild arm stiffness after his most recent outing (March 21) and the Mariners slowed down his throwing schedule. He’s supposed to pitch in relief on Wednesday.
“We have to build him back him up when he lost that time,” Wedge said. “We had him up to five or six innings. It’s just a matter of trying to take care of him.”
Now behind with his pitch limit, Ramirez likely won’t be ready for opening day as a starter. Could he be pitch out of the bullpen as a middle to long reliever — something the Mariners don’t have?
“We know he’s capable of pitching in the bullpen, obviously he did that for us last year as well as starting,” Wedge said. “Right now, I just want him to go out and pitch healthy. That’s the most important thing. My focus is on that right now.”
It leaves Jeremy Bonderman and Blake Beavan as the other candidates for the two spots in the rotation. Beavan gave up 16 hits in his last start, but got hit pitch count up to 100 pitches.
Bonderman will start today against the Kansas City Royals. It could be pivotal for him to make the team.
“I just want him to keep doing what he’s been doing,” Wedge said. “He’s done nothing but progress this camp.”
Loe added to roster
The Mariners added non-roster invitee Kameron Loe to their 40-man roster, meaning the 6-foot-7 reliever has earned a spot in the bullpen. Loe has been solid all spring, making nine appearances and giving up two earned runs in 10 innings with 13 strikeouts. To make room for Loe, the Mariners placed Josh Kinney, who has a stress reaction in his rib cage/upper back, on the 60-day disabled list. Kinney can’t officially start his clock on the disabled list until April 1.
Wedge believes Loe’s big-league seasoning, his ability to pitch more than one inning and ability to get groundball outs will be invaluable
“He’s an experienced guy,” Wedge said. “A guy who we feel can give us some length if we need it. You try to have all types in your bullpen. Kam, he’s a sinkerballer, He can get two outs with one pitch.”