SEATTLE — Brandon Maurer shook the nerves, went back to relying on his primary pitches and finally displayed why the Seattle Mariners felt the 22-year-old was ready to make the jump from Double-A to the majors.
The result was a celebratory shower that left the rookie shivering.
“He’s going through another first right now,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge noted as cheers emerged from the clubhouse.
Dustin Ackley snapped a sixth-inning tie with his first RBI of the season, Maurer rebounded from a horrible start to throw six strong innings for his first career victory and the Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 on Sunday.
Raul Ibanez added a solo homer as Seattle salvaged a split of the four-game series thanks largely to Maurer (1-2) finally showing the promise he displayed in spring training that earned him a spot in the rotation.
“He was much more in control today. More at ease, more comfortable out there and obviously his stuff played out,” Wedge said. “He’s going through a lot of firsts as everybody does when they get to the big leagues, especially for a starting pitcher.
“He was noticeably different I felt like out there today.”
In his first home start last Tuesday against Houston, Maurer recorded just two outs and gave up six earned runs. It was about as horrible a home debut as could be imagined for the rookie. But his recovery on Sunday was impressive, allowing five hits and only two runs before turning it over to the bullpen. Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
Maurer showed his youth and inexperience in his first two starts. He got caught up in the moment both in his first start in Oakland and his first home start against the Astros. But Seattle continued to believe in Maurer’s stuff to the point that newly acquired starter Aaron Harang took the rotation spot of Blake Beavan and not Maurer.
Maurer backed up that belief with the finest performance of his young career. He struck out five and walked only one. And when Texas did get to him for runs — in the second and fifth innings — Maurer immediately responded with 1-2-3 innings the next time out.
“To be honest the game plan was just to throw my game and not look too much into hot zones and cold zones for hitters,” Maurer said. “Get back to the basics.”
Texas took the lead in the fifth scoring twice with two outs. Leury Garcia hit a one-out triple off the top of the wall in deep right-center, but was cut down trying to score on Elvis Andrus’ grounder to second. Craig Gentry was hit by a pitch and Lance Berkman ripped an RBI single on a full-count pitch to score Andrus. Gentry advanced to third on Berkman’s hit and score the go-ahead run when Seattle catcher Jesus Montero couldn’t handle Maurer’s tailing fastball and it went all the way to the backstop for a passed ball.
Texas starter Nick Tepesch (1-1) went 5 2/3 innings in his second career start, but could not get through the sixth holding the lead. After striking out Justin Smoak to open the sixth, Kyle Seager hit his second double of the game — he lined an RBI double in the second. Montero followed with a broken-bat single that dropped softly into shallow right field and allowed Seager to score the tying run. The throw home was wide and Montero was able to advance to second.
That proved large when Ackley — hitting just .108 entering the day — dribbled a single back up the middle, scoring Montero.
“I think you can see the hits were capable of getting in bigger situations and I think that’s all we’ve been away from winning ball games lately is one hit or two hits. Today we showed that we can do that,” Ackley said.
Texas threatened in the seventh after Mitch Moreland walked against reliever Bobby LaFromboise and advanced to second on Garcia’s sacrifice bunt. Stephen Pryor took over and struck out Andrus and Gentry to end the threat.
Pryor walked Adrian Beltre in the eighth and left with two outs after straining a latissimus muscle. Oliver Perez gave up a bloop single to David Murphy to put runners on the corners, but Geovany Soto popped out to end the inning.
“Our pitching staff has done a great job as a whole. They’ve kept us in ball games and helped us get off to a pretty good start,” Murphy said. “Our offensive definitely needs to get in gear sooner than later.”
• Seattle CF Franklin Gutierrez is still bothered by tightness in his legs and was out of the lineup. Seattle manager Eric Wedge is hopeful Gutierrez and OF Michael Morse (finger) could be ready to play on Tuesday.
• Seattle is off on Monday, the last team in baseball to get a day off. The Mariners’ reward is 16 straight games after the day off.