PEORIA, Ariz. -- A bad back has kept starting candidate Brandon Maurer sidelined much of the spring, but the young right-hander returned to action Tuesday with an inning of work against Double-A hitters in a Minor League game.
Maurer threw in just two Cactus League games in early March before being sidelined because of tightness in his back and neck. So Tuesday's 19-pitch outing was an important step back for the 23-year-old who won a starting job with the Mariners with a strong spring last year.
He's not going to be ready for the start of this season, but he was encouraged by his work against the Mariners' Minor League lineup, working three outs around a two-out double by Julio Morban.
"I'm just trying to get the feel back for all four of my pitches, but it felt pretty good for the first time," Maurer said. "I'm finally pain free with everything."
Maurer said he'll likely throw three innings in his next outing this weekend.
Manager Lloyd McClendon again was impressed by the quality of Maurer's pitches and said his biggest challenge will be relaxing more on the mound as he works to improve on last year's 5-8 record and 6.30 ERA in 22 appearances, including 14 starts.
"It's just electric stuff," McClendon said. "His stuff is as good as anybody in camp. I think we all know he has electric stuff, he just has to some way find his inner peace for that stuff to work for him."
Walker shakes off rust in Minor League outing
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Taijuan Walker threw 48 pitches in a three-inning Minor League outing Tuesday, as the Mariners' top prospect took another step toward returning from a sore shoulder that sidelined him early in Spring Training.
Walker, 21, is the No. 6 rated prospect in baseball by MLB.com and was expected to open this year in the Mariners' rotation. Instead, he'll open the year on the disabled list, but he's begun building back up his arm strength, having made two live mound appearance since being shut down for a week at the start of the month.
Walker gave up four hits and four runs (three earned) with two walks, three strikeouts and a wild pitch while facing members of Triple-A Tacoma. His first two innings were halted early to control his pitch count, so he wound up getting six outs in the three frames, including a 1-2-3 third on eight pitches.
"My arm felt good; I just got tired," Walker said. "But that's to be expected. I used my legs a lot today, which was a good sign. I wanted to use more legs, less arm. But my arm felt great."
As for his command?
"Ehhh, it was all right. Could be better," Walker said. "But it's something to work on. Again, my arm feels good, so I'll take the positives. It was my first time throwing the curveball, and I thought it was pretty good. It felt good coming out of my hand. A couple of them I got behind on, but for the most part I felt pretty good."
Xavier Avery opened the game with a triple off Walker that probably could have been a line-drive out, then scored on a wild pickoff attempt to first. He also gave up a double down the line to Cole Gillespie in the second, but looked better in the third while setting down Avery, Chris Taylor and Jabari Blash in short order.
"I looked over and [trainer Rick Griffin] told me, 'You've got 10 pitches," he said with a smile. "I said, 'All right, let's get it done fast.' It was definitely good to see how the arm reacted to setting down, cooling off and then getting back up and going out there. There was no problems with that. It felt real good. Everything has gone real well."
Walker will throw in another Minor League game on Sunday, likely going four or five innings, as he continues extending his work.
"He has a little rust, but that's OK," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He just has to continue to get out there and work on it."
Endy signs Minors deal to stay with Mariners
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners declined to extend retention bonuses to outfielder Endy Chavez and catcher Humberto Quintero on Tuesday, making both veterans free agents, but Chavez agreed to a Minor League contract shortly after and will remain in Seattle's system.
Both players were in camp as non-roster invitees on Minor League deals, but Tuesday was the deadline to extend $100,000 retention bonuses for six-year veterans that would have added them to the 40-man Major League roster.
If they'd been added to the 40-man, both would have been able to decline being optioned back to the Minors since both have more than six years of Major League service time. So the deadline effectively forced the team's hand on decisions with both players prior to Sunday's 4 p.m. PT deadline for the final 25-man roster.
Chavez, 36, hit .267 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 14 RBIs In 97 games for Seattle last year after joining the team in mid-April. He was competing for the final outfield berth on the Mariners 25-man roster this spring, but instead now has agreed to a Triple-A contract and will begin the season again in Tacoma.
That leaves five outfielders in Seattle's Major League camp - Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Michael Saunders, Corey Hart and Stefen Romero. That figures to be the final five, unless the Mariners make any roster additions prior to Monday night's opener in Anaheim.
• Designated hitter and right fielder Corey Hart took some swings in the batting cage Tuesday as he worked his way back from a sore forearm. McClendon said Hart will likely play in Minor League games Wednesday and Thursday so he can get up to nine at-bats each game to get extra work in.
Is Hart a candidate to open the year on the disabled list?
"I hope not," said McClendon.
• Closer Fernando Rodney threw 25 pitches in two innings in a Minor League game to get in extra work on Tuesday, while lefty reliever Joe Beimel and rehabbing right-hander Stephen Pryor also tossed an inning on the backfields.
• Left fielder Dustin Ackley entered Tuesday's games tied with Toronto's Melky Cabrera for the most hits this spring with 24 and added another in a 1-for-3 night against the Royals.
• Erasmo Ramirez will start Wednesday's 12:05 p.m. PT game against the Rangers, James Paxton is scheduled to throw in a Minor League game Thursday when the Mariners are off, and Roenis Elias has been slotted into Friday night's game against the Rockies. No starter has been announced yet for Saturday's spring finale against the Rockies.