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Maurer might sneak back into Mariners' rotation

The SportsXchange

This time last year, right-hander Brandon Maurer entered spring training with virtually no shot at making the Opening Day rotation. He shocked observers by earning a starting job as an unheralded, 22-year-old rookie.

This spring, after struggling to a 5-8 record and a 6.38 ERA in 2013, Maurer looked to be as big a long shot to make the rotation as he was a year ago. And yet, thanks to the news that All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma could miss up to six weeks with a strained finger, Maurer may well be there again when the regular season begins.

Maurer might be the best of the available options currently working out with the team, although the Mariners still seem to be in the mix for free agent right-hander Ervin Santana.

As it stands, the only known member of the 2014 rotation is ace Felix Hernandez. Young phenoms James Paxton, a left-hander, and Taijuan Walker, a right-hander appear to have inside tracks on starting jobs after strong showings last September, but both are still fairly untested -- and Walker came into the spring with some soreness in his pitching shoulder.

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez is another option for the season-opening rotation, but he struggled to stay healthy last season and showed signs of inconsistency. And Iwakuma's finger injury only added to the pitching questions surrounding the Mariners this spring.

Maurer suddenly rose to spring prominence again before even proving much on the mound. He is one of three relatively young starters who failed in previous efforts -- right-handers Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi are the others -- and it is conceivable that any one of those three could fill Iwakuma's spot for a start or two before moving to the bullpen as a long reliever. Seattle also has several non-roster veterans like right-handers Scott Baker and Zach Miner and lefties Randy Wolf and Joe Beimel who have major league starting experience but have a lot to prove this spring if they want to be considered for the rotation.

The best-case scenario, of course, is for Iwakuma's finger to heal in time for the regular season. General manager Jack Zduriencik said that the injury isn't considered serious, and there is a chance Iwakuma could be back on the mound before spring training breaks.

If the injury lingers, Seattle will be looking for a secondary option to fill out the rotation, and Maurer surprisingly could be at the top of the list. Manager Lloyd McClendon said in mid-February that he prefers to have eight to nine candidates for the rotation, but when spring opened, all the Mariners were hoping to find was a legitimate five.
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