SEATTLE — Brandon Maurer may be pitching in relief right now, but Mariners manager Eric Wedge was adamant before Sunday’s game that he believes the young right-hander’s future with the organization will be as a starter.
“I think most people do,” Wedge said. “With the number of quality pitches he has, with his size and strength, I think it’d be a shame if he’s not a starter down the road. You look at his repertoire of pitches and his stuff, it’s what he should be.”
Wedge has always preached about the idea of never giving up on a player too soon. And giving up on Maurer as a starter and making him a full-time reliever seems ludicrous to him.
“Giving up on him shouldn’t even be a question on a guy like that,” he said. “If an organization ever considered taking that option away from a guy like that would be crazy. What is he 23 years old?”
Yes, Maurer just turned 23 on July 3. His first stint as a starter in the big leagues wasn’t a great success. With an injury to Erasmo Ramirez and the opt-out clause of Jon Garland, Maurer earned a spot in the starting rotation on the opening day roster thanks to a stellar spring training.
That didn’t carry over into the regular season, where Maurer’s lack of experience, having made the move from Class AA to the major leagues, was readily apparent. He made 10 starts, going 2-7 with a 6.93 ERA before being sent down to Class AAA Tacoma.
Maurer made another 10 starts with the Rainiers, going 3-4 with a 5.21 ERA, and was called back up to pitch in long relief in Seattle.
“He’s learned a lot this season,” Wedge said. “I like the fact that he’s in the big league and in the bullpen because he sees it from a different light. I think that’s going to help him too in his development.”
One of the biggest issues is Maurer coming in ready to pitch. Wedge hopes that the time in the bullpen will teach him that. As a starter, first innings were a problem for Maurer. Opponents were hitting .449 in that first inning and he gave up 17 runs in 92/3 innings for a 15.83 ERA.
Wedge hopes the immediacy of pitching in the bullpen will help Maurer come out and pitch with purpose immediately. As a reliever, Maurer never knows when he’s going to pitch and what the situation will be, but he has to be ready. And he doesn’t have a ton of innings to figure it out.
“The first pitch of ball game is an important as anything else, the first hitter of the game is important as anything else,” Wedge said. “He’s got to figure that out. He had to fight through those first couple of innings to figure out. Those are the limitations he needs to figure out.”
Michael Saunders was out of the lineup for a second straight day with a sore neck. Wedge said Saunders woke up with it on Saturday morning. … Wedge was quite pleased with Mike Zunino’s first batting practice session on Saturday, saying: “His batting practice yesterday was without hesitation. He looked great, even fouled a couple pitches off where you thought might see something. Zunino worked on throws down to second base before Sunday’s game and looked sharp. “I think he’s on the path,” Wedge said. “What we’ll look to do the next couple days is everything — catch bullpens, take batting practice. If all is well, we’ll get him out.”