LAA@SEA: Maurer shuts down Angels, fans six

ARLINGTON -- Finding a niche as a long reliever is never easy, but rookie right-hander Brandon Maurer continued evolving into that role with his best outing yet in Thursday's 7-1 loss to the Rays.

Maurer, 23, threw 2 2/3 innings and allowed two hits and one run in relief of starter Joe Saunders.

It was Maurer's fourth appearance over 20 days since he was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma and told his new job would be out of the bullpen. He's 1-0 with a 5.25 ERA in 12 innings in that role after going 2-7 with a 6.93 ERA in 10 starts at the beginning of the year.

After knowing you're going to start every fifth day, the uncertainty of long relief can be taxing on a young pitcher. But Maurer is finding positives, along with more positive results, as he's gone along.

"It's weird, but I'm getting used to it," he said. "It's one of those things where you don't really know until the phone rings. But it's easy to stay fresh. So staying fresh and staying sharp stay hand in hand. When everything feels good, it should be easy to stay on target."

His biggest lesson so far in his three weeks of on-the-job training?

"I've been able to slow the game down quite a bit," Maurer said. "That's probably the biggest key, just to go out there, take a deep breath and here we go instead of 'Get the ball and throw, get the ball and throw.'

"Coming out of the bullpen, you're trying to get everything ready so quick, then when you get in the game, you've got to slow it down a little bit. Just shift that gear back down."

Maurer stranded the one runner he inherited from Saunders in the fifth inning on Thursday and retired the first five batters he faced before hitting leadoff man Wil Myers in the seventh, eventually allowing him to score after a pair of singles.

But overall, it was a solid outing for the youngster, who didn't allow a run in 3 1/3 innings in his prior outing, but walked the tightrope by issuing five walks with three hits against the Blue Jays.

Maurer's control was much better Thursday as he struck out four with no walks.

"It felt good to come out and get a quick inning under my belt," he said. "It's about command and attacking and using all my pitches for strikes, and then not trying to make that nasty 0-2 pitch when I'm ahead in the count."

Franklin looks to work through problems at plate

SEA@TB: Franklin adds to the lead with an RBI double

ARLINGTON -- After getting off to an outstanding start with the Mariners, rookie second baseman Nick Franklin has hit just .199 in 33 games since July 1 going into Friday's series opener with the Rangers.

But acting manager Robby Thompson has stuck with Franklin in the No. 2 spot in the lineup despite a noticeable drop in the youngster's confidence level.

"This game will humble you in a hurry," Thompson said. "Just when you think you've got it made up here, it can come back and bite you in a hurry and sometimes it bites you hard and long. He's kind of finding out a little bit about that right now.

"Even as confident as he was down below, he was confident up here earlier and he's lost a little bit of that. He's lost a little of his swagger. But he'll get it back. He's a young kid and it's part of the growing pains and learning situations he's going to have to go through."

Part of the learning curve is dealing with off-speed pitches, which have come with increased frequency as Franklin's struggles mount. He struck out the first three times in Thursday's 7-1 loss to the Rays, the third coming with the bases loaded on a 3-2 changeup by Alex Cobb.

"There were times through the entire game where he was just throwing me a lot of curveballs," Franklin said. "I was looking for that pitch before, and he threw me a changeup for a ball. I thought for sure he wouldn't throw it twice."

Welcome to the big leagues.

"When young guys get up here, you're going to be tested to see if you can hit a fastball," said Thompson. "If you can't, you're going to keep getting them. Well, he's a pretty good fastball hitter. Now all of the sudden, word gets out and they're throwing breaking balls in fastball counts and he has not really made that adjustment yet. That should come with time."

Franklin is hitting .242 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 64 games, but is just 5-for-49 (.102) since July 31.

Healing Zunino starts swinging the bat

SEA@CLE: Mariners take lead on Zunino's solo shot

ARLINGTON -- Rookie catcher Mike Zunino, sidelined the past three weeks with a broken hamate bone in his left hand, has started swinging a bat in recent days as he works toward rejoining the Mariners for the final month of the season.

"He is progressing really well," said acting manager Robby Thompson. "A couple days ago he was swinging in the pool with resistance. Then he was doing some dry swings with the Fungo and then the regular bat. No problems. And I heard he was going to do a little tee work today."

Trainer Rick Griffin challenged Zunino to beat the 23-day comeback Ken Griffey Jr. needed to recover from the same injury in 1996, though noting the typical recovery is about six weeks. Zunino has missed 21 days so far and clearly isn't going to be ready this week, but he's getting closer.

"He's saying he was going to beat Griffey's time," Thompson said. "He's really working hard and champing at the bit to come back. I'm not quite sure what the timetable will be when we get back, whether he'll be hitting a little bit. But he's working his way toward regular BP and we'll see how it goes with that and then, hopefully, get him on a little rehab assignment."

Catcher Jesus Sucre, out since June 4 with a bruised left wrist, began his own Minor League rehab stint last week with the Peoria Rookie League squad and is expected to join Triple-A Tacoma shortly. He went 2-for-4 on Thursday and is hitting .250 (4-for-16) in five games with Peoria.

Worth noting

• Saturday's 5:05 p.m. PT game against the Rangers will be aired on 770 AM and 104.5 FM in the Seattle area instead of the normal 710 ESPN Seattle due to a conflict with the Seahawks' preseason game against the Broncos.

• When Raul Ibanez homered in Thursday's 7-1 loss, it was his 35th home run since he turned 40 years old last season on June 2, 2012. Ibanez hit just 28 home runs in 371 career games prior to turning 30.

• Top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker gave up four hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings for Tacoma while taking the loss at Round Rock on Thursday. Walker walked four and had nine strikeouts and is now 3-3 with a 4.27 ERA in nine starts since being promoted to Triple-A.