PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners' search for rotation candidates has added a new name with the emergence of Roenis Elias, a 25-year-old left-hander who will start Sunday's 1:05 p.m. PT Cactus League game against the Angels in Tempe.
Elias, who defected from Cuba in 2010, was a Southern League All-Star for Double-A Jackson last season when he went 6-11 with a 3.18 ERA and struck out 121 batters in 130 innings.
The youngster has quietly impressed the Mariners with his performance this spring and is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA over 7 1/3 innings over three relief appearances, including three scoreless frames against the Angels on Tuesday.
"He's a left-hander who is 91-94 [mph on his fastball], he throws strikes, has quality stuff, he competes, holds runners," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "It's been interesting."
The Mariners originally had veteran Scott Baker slated to start Sunday, but will instead have him go in a Minor League game in Peoria. McClendon said that is to avoid having Baker face the division-rival Angels three times in four Cactus League starts.
But clearly the club wants to see what Elias can do with the opportunity, and the youngster is eager as well.
"I'm very excited to have the chance to pitch again," Elias said while using teammate Erasmo Ramirez as an interpreter. "I'm just trying to do my best because I'm fighting for a spot. I'm just looking for a chance."
Elias defected from Cuba on a boat with 26 others on Oct. 26, 2010 with only a backpack and a hope for a better life, landing in Cancun, Mexico, and spending a year pitching for a pro team in Monterrey, Mexico.
He was signed by a Mariners scout after a tryout in 2011, and pitched 11 games in the low Minors that year before going 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 26 starts with Class A High Desert in 2012 and then advancing to Jackson last season.
The Mariners invited him to Major League camp this spring along with a group of other non-roster youngsters, most of whom are now back in the Minor League camp. Sitting alone at his locker in a corner of the Mariners clubhouse, now largely vacated by prospects who've been cut over the recent days, Elias appreciates his situation.
"I prayed for the chance to come to Major League camp and get an opportunity," he said. "Now that I'm here, my goal is to show whatever I've got and give 100 percent in the game and show them I can pitch here."
McClendon said Elias will be given a chance to pitch about five innings or 75 pitches against the Angels. And, yes, the Mariners are looking at him as a rotation option either in Seattle or Triple-A Tacoma as things play out over the next few weeks.
"I'm sure he could pitch out of the bullpen," McClendon said. "As we speak right now, I see him as a starter."
Back problems continue to sideline Maurer
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A stop-and-start spring for Brandon Maurer has ground to a halt again as the young Mariners right-hander will likely be sidelined for another week due to ongoing back problems that have haunted him since the start of camp.
Maurer, 23, was a Cactus League surprise for Seattle last year when he earned a rotation berth with a strong spring and jumped from Double-A straight to the Majors.
But things aren't going nearly as well this camp as Maurer has thrown just twice this spring -- giving up five runs in 4 2/3 innings -- and now is back in the training room trying to find answers for a back issue he originally thought was just a minor tweak from sleeping wrong.
"He's still banged up," manager Lloyd McClendon said Saturday. "He's getting treatment every day, but he's not ready to go. My guess is he'll probably be another six or seven days before he can go."
McClendon acknowledged "that's not good" at this time of spring for a pitcher trying to compete for a rotation berth. Maurer effectively is out of the running now to break camp in the starting five, which also won't have Hisashi Iwakuma (sprained finger tendon) and Taijuan Walker (bursitis in his shoulder) ready for at least the first few weeks of the season.
That leaves Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan as the returning candidates, with veteran non-roster invitees Scott Baker and Randy Wolf also competing for spots along with left-hander Roenis Elias, who was pitching in Double-A last year.
Maurer went 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA in 22 games, including 14 starts, in 2013. The Mariners were hoping that initial experience would allow the 6-foot-5 California native to take a strong step forward this spring, but that has yet to happen due to his health situation.
"It's frustrating," Maurer said. "I haven't thrown yet, so I'm just trying to wait it out until it feels good instead of trying to rush it. It's not anything crazy, just muscles or something. But it really is a pain in the butt. It's no fun.
"I just have to take it one day at a time," he said. "I'm just letting it rest and waiting till it calms down, then I'll get after it."
• Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor "threw exceptionally well" in a live batting practice session Friday, according to McClendon, as he comes back from August surgery to repair his latissimus dorsi muscle. McClendon said there's a chance Pryor will throw in a Minor League game in the next few days, though he said it's "probably stretching" to think he could be ready to break camp with the team by Opening Day.
• Right-hander Taijuan Walker again played long toss on Saturday and will throw a bullpen session on Sunday, his second since being shut down for a week to rest an inflamed right shoulder. McClendon said the team's top pitching prospect is feeling good, but the club will wait and see how things progress over the coming week before setting any firm plans for getting him into live action.
• Outfielder Stefen Romero didn't play Saturday, but the 25-year-old has been on a tear of late with a 9-of-19 stretch with two doubles, two triples, two home runs and four RBIs after going 0-for-16 to open the spring.
"He's played well," McClendon said. "He's been impressive this spring. I think we all know our need and desire for right-handed bats throughout our lineup. He's certainly in the mix."