Maurer hoping to join pantheon of Padres closers

July 3rd, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- New Padres closer Brandon Maurer has a tattoo on the bicep just above the inside of his left elbow that reads like this:

"Play for those that don't have the privilege to play for themselves."

Here's the back story:

"My mother [Mary] works with handicapped children," Maurer told before the Padres played the Yankees at Petco Park on Saturday night. "Just growing up with them all the time and seeing how happy they are all day long made me take advantage of the ability I have."

It says a lot about Maurer, the 25-year-old right-hander, who's well aware he's inheriting a wealth of Padres history succeeding the just traded Fernando Rodney in that role at the back of the bullpen.

The Padres have two closers already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame -- Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage -- and another, Trevor Hoffman, who missed by just 34 votes earlier this year, his first on the ballot. Hoffman had a National League record 601 saves in his career, 552 of them in 12 years with the Padres.

Mark Davis won the National League's Cy Young Award for the Padres in 1989 when he saved 44 games and posted a 1.85 ERA.

After Hoffman left for Milwaukee as a free agent in 2009, the closer slot was amply filled by Heath Bell, Huston Street, Craig Kimbrel and finally Rodney, who was traded to Miami on Thursday after recording 17 saves in as many opportunities.

Maurer, who is 6-foot-5 and has a ready smile, laughed about all the greats he's following.

"We talk about it while we're sitting around in the bullpen," said Maurer, in the midst of his third big league season. "Those guys were something special."

Maurer considers himself to be fortunate. Hoffman is still in the organization as a senior advisor in baseball operations with the specific assignment of coaching pitchers from the top of the organization down. He has picked Hoffman's brain about how to approach a number of situations.

Hoffman grew up in Anaheim. His late father, Ed, was the singing usher who used to croon the National Anthem before Angels games at what was once called Anaheim Stadium.

Strangely enough, Maurer grew up in nearby Costa Mesa. Calif.

"Not too far from here," said Maurer, who was acquired from the Mariners on Dec. 30, 2014, for outfielder Seth Smith. "That's why I was glad I was traded."

Maurer and Hoffman have that in common, too. Hoffman was traded to San Diego on June 23, 1993, in the fire-sale deal that sent Gary Sheffield to the Marlins. Hoffman, a converted shortstop, had two saves to his credit when he arrived.

His first came earlier in the 1993 season for the expansion Marlins as an emergency sub for closer Brian Harvey, who wasn't with the club that day in Atlanta.

Talk about trial by fire, Maurer now knows the feeling.

Maurer had always dreamed about being used as a closer, but he didn't figure to be thrown into the mix for the first time in his career on Friday night in what turned out to be a 7-6 Padres victory over the Yankees.

The Yanks trailed by five going into the inning and already had three runners and a run in with none out against left-hander Matt Thornton when Maurer was brought into the game. Maurer quickly allowed an RBI double by Didi Gregorius, a run-scoring grounder by Aaron Hicks, a wild pitch that scored Gregorius, and Carlos Beltran's pinch-hit double into the left-center field gap.

Beltran represented the tying run on second with one out.

"It was a tense situation last night," said first-year Padres manager Andy Green. "First thing I told him when I got out there is that these base runners don't mean anything. It's about getting the next three outs." Those last three outs of the game are always the toughest to get, Maurer acknowledged. But Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner grounded out. And that's the way he'll remember his first Major League save.

How did it go?

"Not good, but it went," Maurer said. "I know I made a couple of pitches there that weren't executed properly. The slider to Didi was not nearly where I wanted it to be and that got the ball rolling. It felt good getting those outs, though."

He had to work for it.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy," he added.

Maurer is the first line of resistance as Green conducts an in-season tryout for the closer's slot. The last time this happened for the Padres was two seasons ago when Street was traded midstream to the Angels. Joaquin Benoit stepped up from setup guy to closer and then hurt his shoulder.

Kevin Quackenbush, still a setup guy for the Padres, was a rookie then and filled in to save five games that September.

"I loved it," said Quackenbush, again waiting in the wings. "I had a lot of fun doing it."

Green said he'd rather let Maurer make the most of the opportunity before discussing any alternatives.

"Let's stick with option A before we start looking at B, C, D and E," Green said. "Maurer is our guy right now. Time will tell. I like who he is and what he brings to the table. Along the way there's going to be times for growth, times when he doesn't come through. We'll see how he bounces back from the bad ones, because there are going to be bad ones."

And when times get tough, Maurer can take solace. He can always refer to the tattoo on the inside of his left arm.