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Of the Big 4 one remains

By Shannon Drayer

I have got to do a little re-write here and rather than scrap the write-up of what I saw Thursday from James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer, I am going to just add the news here at the top.

The news is not surprising: Danny Hultzen and Hector Noesi have been optioned to Tacoma, while Paxton, Walker and Jhonny Nunez have been re-assigned to minor-league camp. Three of the Big Four were in action Thursday and I would suspect that these decisions were made before they even took the field. Paxton and Walker were in the B game against Indians minor leaguers in Goodyear and Maurer pitched against the Reds in Peoria.

Paxton was looking to rebound from his last outing where he was unable to get out of the first inning. He fared much better this time in the first, allowing just one hit. In the second he faced adversity in the form of back-to-back errors from Nick Franklin.

If this sounds familiar then you were really paying attention last spring. About this time last year Franklin committed two errors behind Hultzen in a B game against the Indians on the same field. Last year Franklin was at second, this year at short. Last year Hultzen was left with the bases loaded, and in the performance that I will think of first until Hultzen does something spectacular at the big-league level, he found a different gear and struck out the side. You could see his determination from the stands.

Paxton didn’t quite do that. With two already on with a base hit and a walk, he allowed both plus the two errors to score. All four runs were unearned but he didn’t exactly control the damage. It wasn’t a horrible performance by any means but it wasn’t something that was going to catch the attention of Wedge and the coaches in a positive manner.

While Taijuan Walker was brilliant at times this spring, he didn’t show enough consistency to stick with the big-league club. Walker, along with James Paxton and Jhonny Nunez, was re-assigned to minor-league camp. (AP)

As for Walker, he breezed through the first inning 1-2-3, striking out two, the second with a nasty breaking ball. To open the second inning he gave up three straight hits. He threw two innings, allowing two earned runs on two hits with four strikeouts and no walks.

You see it all with Walker. It is all there. On Thursday his fastball sat at 95 and he was dropping curveballs in at 72-75. Unfortunately some of those curves were nowhere near the strike zone and some of the fastballs were in too much of the strike zone.

One of the things I like the most about Walker, however, is he doesn’t give in. You see him battle through struggles and continue to throw the breaking ball because he knows it is not going to get any better if he doesn’t. He is working smart and that will pay off if he continues to do so. It is about consistency at this point with him and it will take more work to get there.

The fact that Paxton and Walker were sent down is not a huge surprise. With Walker’s age and lack of experience he would have had to force the issue, make it impossible for the Mariners to deny him. While he showed brilliance at times, he never slammed the door. At some point I suspect he will, just not this spring.

For Paxton, his inconsistency was disappointing. This still was just his first spring where he was actually here to compete. He still went through things like needing to calm himself down in the first inning or learning that his fastball in to a lefty might not get hit in the minors but big leaguers feast on that pitch. In other words, he is still very young in professional baseball.

As for Hultzen, I am a little disappointed that we don’t get to see him again but I suspected after Wednesday’s inning that would be his last. Not because it was bad, because it wasn’t, but because they don’t want him to push it unnecessarily after losing time with the hip-flexor strain. I liked what I saw from him both on and off the field this spring and I wouldn’t be surprised if the command issues he had last year are behind him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes things interesting as the year goes on.

So the one remaining pitcher from the group of four is Maurer and this is not a surprise. I have said for some time now that he was my pick to be the first up because he is more polished. I assumed this before I saw him in person from things I had heard, the numbers I saw and his history. He has come up through the organization. He has pitched professionally for over four years. What I have learned since I have seen him is his stuff is better than I imagined it to be. He’s not just a guy who knows how to pitch. He’s got weapons.

Thursday against the Reds he pitched a scoreless four innings, giving up no runs on three hits, two walks and four strikeouts. He was most impressive in his final inning. After getting into a bit of trouble with runners on first and second with no outs he forced a pop-up and double play to get out of the inning.

In 10 innings pitched he has allowed just one run, walked four and struck out 11. Make no mistake, he is here because he is pushing for a spot in the starting rotation.

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