OAKLAND, Calif. — There were the usual jitters and mistakes one would expect from a Mariners pitcher making his debut straight out of Class AA.
And by the time Brandon Maurer was done experiencing it all for the first time on Thursday, his team didn’t have enough offense left to prevent the Oakland Athletics from splitting their season-opening four-game series. Maurer eventually found a bit of a groove in this 8-2 loss and said he hoped to carry what he’d learned into his next start.
One of the lessons: don’t make mistake pitches to the two best power hitters on the other team.
“I think there was a time there when I settled down, but then I started getting away from my fastball and started getting behind in counts and got myself in trouble,” Maurer said after giving up six runs in six innings, four of them on two-run homers by Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.
The Reddick blast was on a 1-2 fastball that traveled right down the middle of the plate instead of its intended target of up-and-away from the hitter. Then, after a Michael Morse solo homer — his fourth in three days — drew the Mariners within a run at 3-2 in the sixth, Cespedes got a slider right down the middle and belted it over the left field wall in the bottom of the frame.
Five of the eight hits by the A’s off Maurer went for extra bases. Jed Lowrie had two more doubles for the day, giving him four in the last two games along with a home run.
Oakland scored twice on a pair of sacrifice flies by Reddick and Nate Freiman off Lucas Luetge in the eighth to cap the blowout.
A crowd of 12,134 at the Coliseum saw Maurer become the first Mariners starting pitcher in 20 years to open a season in the rotation without having pitched in Class AAA. The last two pitchers to do it were John Cummings and Mike Hampton in 1993 when they were a season removed from Class A.
Maurer pitched AA last year, then dazzled the Mariners this spring with the ability to make in-game adjustments and bear down with runners on base. While Maurer did appear to adjust after the first inning — retiring nine in a row after hitting Chris Young to start the second — he also had problems once runners got on.
The mistake to Reddick was one of those, and Maurer later uncorked a wild pitch in the fifth that moved Young to third base with none out following his leadoff double. Young later scored to restore a two-run cushion for the A’s a half-inning after Michael Saunders had hit a sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
Then, after the Morse home run to left off A’s starter A.J. Griffin closed the gap to 3-2, Maurer couldn’t hold the fort in the bottom of the inning. He yielded back-to-back doubles to Lowrie and Reddick before the Cespedes blast erased all doubt about how the once-close game would end.
“I think maybe location with the off-speed is what got me in trouble,” Maurer said.
Indeed, the doubles came on a changeup to Lowrie and a slider to Reddick that were again too centered. Maurer had his family fly up from Los Angeles for the game and did have to battle some nerves.
“I actually felt OK going out there the first inning,” he said. “And then the second inning — uh-oh.”
Mariners veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach, who reached base three times with two singles and a walk in his season debut, watched the pitcher closely for signs of becoming too nervous.
“He seemed to handle himself real well,” Shoppach said. “If you didn’t know it was his first start, you wouldn’t have known.”
Maurer had thrown just 59 pitches through five innings in a 3-1 game. He finished with 78 pitches and Shoppach said that, other than a few mistake pitches, things didn’t go all that badly.
“I hope he sees that he learned from a couple of mistakes in good spots there and corrects them going forward,” Shoppach said. “It was a pretty good day for him. I hope that he’s proud that he had a chance to get out there and pitch for the first time.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge agreed that Maurer should be able to move on from here.
“I think he just needed to get settled in early on,” Wedge said. “That was nothing more than that it being his first time out there. He really settled in nicely and was throwing the ball very well there for a while.” Wedge hopes the rest of his team settles in as well now that the first series is done. The Mariners were outscored 14-4 the final two games after winning the first two by a combined 9-1 margin.
“It’s a new ballclub, we’ve got a lot of guys here that are just now getting settled in,” Wedge said. “It takes a little time to get your feet underneath you and find that groove as a club. But we will.”