Maurer, Pryor on track to return to Mariners' bullpen

USA TODAY Sports

While the M’s scramble to patch holes in the rotation, Brandon Maurer and Stephen Pryor are finding their way back to the major leagues.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. The Plan, if I remember correctly, required the Mariners' brightest and most promising prospects to develop healthy, stable careers, driving the team's success for years to come. Instead, we're 11 days into a new season, and James Paxton is now the fourth and final member of the "Big Four" to succumb to injury.

The silver lining, however slight, is that most victims of the DL are scheduled to return within the month. Taijuan Walker is marinating his breaking pitches in Double-A Jackson and pitched five innings of shutout ball during his second start last night. Hisashi Iwakuma threw off the mound for the first time yesterday after spraining his finger in spring training. Two pitchers with more concerning injuries -- Brandon Maurer and Stephen Pryor -- are finally on pace to rejoin the big league club this spring.

Maurer's chance to compete for a rotation spot was derailed in February when he tweaked his back, landing him a rehab stint in Triple-A Tacoma. Although the 23-year-old began and ended the 2013 season in the M's rotation, his eight starts in the 'pen caught the eye of then-bullpen coach Jaime Navarro, who is currently working as the pitching coach for the Rainiers. Both the Tacoma News Tribune's TJ Cotterill and Tacoma broadcaster Mike Curto believe that Maurer is being conditioned as a long reliever, rather than finishing his rehab stint as a potential starter.

So far, Maurer has worked two games for the Rainiers, serving up four hits, three walks, a home run, and five strikeouts over three innings of work. It looks impressive, but it's also the smallest of sample sizes. Whether or not he gets the call -- not to mention his role on the roster -- will depend heavily on how quickly Paxton, Walker, and Iwakuma recover. It's worth noting that Blake Beavan is also rumored to fill a gap in the rotation.

While Maurer is being considered for the 'pen, Pryor is an even bigger source of uncertainty. Back in January, trainer Rob Nodine estimated that the 24-year-old would return in May after recovering from surgery. "We're not going to hold him to a timetable, just because we want to see how this progresses," Nodine told MLB.com's Greg Johns.

According to Rotoworld, however, Pryor is progressing quickly enough to see a return by the end of April. He made his second appearance for the Double-A Jackson Generals earlier this week, struggling with his command as he gave up four hits, two home runs, three walks, and just one strikeout in 1 2/3 innings of work. To add insult to injury, the right-hander blew the second save of his career, handing the Chattanooga Lookouts a triple and two-run homer in the 8th.

Like Maurer, Pryor's biggest hurdle might be an increasingly crowded bullpen, what with right-handers Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, Yoervis Medina, Fernando Rodney, and Tom Wilhelmsen vying for playing time, not to mention Brandon Maurer. Whether he has the ability to regain the strength and speed of his (very brief) glory days is another question entirely.

Where do you envision Brandon Maurer fitting in the M's roster this season? Will Stephen Pryor ever become more than a shadow of the flamethrower he used to be?

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