Astros light up Mariners rookie Brandon Maurer

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Finally getting to take out some frustration, the Astros racked up six runs and seven hits in the first Tuesday against Mariners starter Brandon Maurer, sending him to the showers after 36 pitches.

It was a second straight rough outing for Maurer, who climbed over several pitchers this spring to win a spot in the Mariners rotation. He gave up six runs over six innings in a loss to Oakland in his major league debut last week.

While the Mariners probably won’t bail on Maurer after two starts, he’s going to have to be better next time to keep his spot. If he fails again, the Mariners could give Jeremy Bonderman a shot. Bonderman, who is trying to return to the majors after two years off, allowed three runs in five innings in his first start for Triple-A Tacoma.

Ideally, the Mariners would have Erasmo Ramirez available to fill in, but he’s on the minor league DL after coming down with some elbow soreness late in the spring. They do have top prospect Danny Hultzen available if they don’t want to turn to Bonderman. Hultzen has battled control problems since being drafted second overall two years ago, but he had a nice season debut for Tacoma, allowing one run in six innings and striking out eight.

As for the Astros, their six runs in the first tonight matched their total from the previous three games combined. They had been shut out in three of their first seven games.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.