PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners sent five pitchers down to the Minor Leagues on Thursday, including top prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. But interestingly, up-and-coming right-hander Brandon Maurer remains in the Major League camp after throwing four more shutout innings in an 8-7 victory over the Reds.
Hultzen and Hector Noesi, who are both on the 40-man roster, were officially optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. Three more pitchers -- Walker, Paxton and Jhonny Nunez -- were reassigned to Minor League camp since they're not on the 40-man roster.
The moves bring the Mariners' total to 51 players still in camp, including 22 pitchers.
Among those still competing is Maurer, the 22-year-old right-hander who has a 0.90 ERA with just one run allowed in 10 innings this spring. He allowed three hits and two walks with four strikeouts in shutting out the Reds from the fifth through eighth innings on Thursday. It was his longest spring stint, after Joe Saunders gave up seven runs in the first four frames.
"We had a couple starters out there pitching for us and it was a little different for Brandon coming out of the bullpen like that, but he knew he was going to pitch four innings and he did a great job," said manager Eric Wedge. "He rushed through a couple pitches at times, but he was able to fix it and that's a good sign. His stuff was good again, like it was his last outing. The baseball is doing what he wants it to do and obviously it's good stuff. So, he's been pretty impressive."
What exactly do the Mariners need to see from Maurer, who was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year last season for Double-A Jackson?
"It's a combination of things," Wedge said. "One, how he handles himself as a young pitcher. Two, just the way his stuff plays against big league hitters. And then you just look at how he continues to climb in regard to how we build him up and how he handles different situations and works through those situations. So far, we've seen all good things."
Walker and Hultzen are among the top prospects in baseball, but Walker is just 20 and has yet to pitch above Double-A ball and Hultzen -- the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft -- missed a week of camp with a sore hip and has thrown just four innings this spring.
Sams channeling former Mariner Halman in Classic
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kalian Sams is playing for a lot of things these days. He's playing for his native Netherlands as it competes for the World Baseball Classic championship, for one.
He's also playing for the Mariners, who signed him as an international free agent in 2006 and have patiently watched him work his way up to Double-A Jackson as a powerful 26-year-old outfield prospect.
In fact, he'll play against the Mariners on Friday night when The Netherlands plays an exhibition game against Seattle at 7:05 p.m. PT at Peoria Stadium as its final tuneup before beginning the Classic finals Monday in San Francisco.
But he also competes for someone Seattle fans well remember, Dutch outfielder Greg Halman, his lifelong friend who was murdered in November, 2011, by his younger brother after finishing up his season with the Mariners.
Halman took great pride in being one of the few Major League players from Holland and certainly would have relished The Netherlands' current run in the Classic.
Are the Dutch players playing these games for Halman?
"I always play for him," Sams said. "Every day."
Sams hit .242 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 76 games for Jackson last year, missing some time due to injuries and fighting the inconsistency that has slowed his climb through the system.
But he's been a steady contributor to the Dutch squad in the Classic, hitting .263 with a .400 on-base percentage in six games and scoring a key run in the finals-clinching upset of Cuba.
"It's been a lot of fun," Sams said. "I like it a lot playing with guys I grew up with and guys like Andruw Jones that I'd never met. You always look up to guys like that. It's a good experience so far. I've learned a lot. I'm just living it."
And in the process, he's living it for one guy who can't take part, but would have loved wearing the orange Netherlands jersey more than anyone this month.
"I believe a lot of kids looked up to Greg Halman and started playing baseball and trying to be a little better," Sams said. "They saw him grow from playing in the Dutch leagues to the Major Leagues. And that's every kid's dream, even in the Netherlands, where it's not as big of a sport.
"Having that kind of background and being from the Netherlands, you don't really have anybody to look up to except for Andruw Jones, and he's not really from the Netherlands, he's from Curacao. Greg was kind of the main guy at that point."
Sams knew Halman since he was 9 years old and signed with the Mariners because Halman was already with the club. Who will be the next Major Leaguer from Holland for youngsters to emulate?
"Hopefully, it's me," Sams said, smiling. "I'm working toward it."
No matter the month, Morse happy to get results
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Michael Morse understands it's just Spring Training and whatever happens in March is long forgotten once regular-season play begins in a few weeks, but that doesn't stop him from taking pleasure in knocking balls over the wall.
Morse hit two more home runs on Thursday -- tying for the Cactus League lead with the White Sox's Paul Konerko with five -- in a five-RBI day in the Mariners' 8-7 victory over the Reds.
"For me, personally, I'm always working and trying to fine tune my swing or defense or offense or whatever it could be," said Morse. "It's always good to get results, no matter what time of year it is.
"My timing is pretty good. My at-bats are starting to become quality at-bats in a row. Early in spring, you might have one good one and then a couple bad ones. I'm starting to get a nice rhythm and good feel. And for me, it's a feel I don't think about, it just happens."
What happened on Thursday is Morse went 3-for-3 and hit three balls very hard. Two went over the wall, a powerful two-run shot off Homer Bailey deep to center in the fourth inning and then a high, arching three-run pop that just cleared the left-field fence off Clay Hensley in the fifth.
But it was his double in the second off Bailey that had him smiling afterward.
"Out of all the at-bats, that was the one I liked the most, because that was two strikes and he threw me a breaking ball in the dirt the pitch before and I swung at it," Morse said. "So, I made a little adjustment and stayed through the ball and hit that double off the wall and it felt pretty good."
It looked good to manager Eric Wedge, who has been seeking the kind of middle-of-the-order presence Morse has instantly added this spring.
"He's strong and he's really working to stay through the ball," Wedge said. "And he stayed through a couple good ones. The first one was really impressive, the double. He had to go down and get it. That's a ground-ball pitch and he stayed down and through it and really scooped it out of there and hit it a long way.
"Obviously, the second one he really touched and he stayed through a slider on the last one. So, it was a really good day for Mike. He takes a lot of pride in his work and what he's trying to do."
Walker, Paxton done in by defense in 'B' game
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker gave up two runs in two innings of a 6-0 loss to the Indians in a seven-inning "B" game on Thursday, though the 20-year-old right-hander didn't get a lot of help from his defense.
Both Walker's runs were earned, but the leadoff hit was a double that sailed over the head of left fielder Vinnie Catricala -- who has played third base most of the spring -- and the next batter drove a ground ball that just eluded second baseman Timmy Lopes, an 18-year-old Minor Leaguer called up to fill out the squad.
The Indians proceeded to get a clean single off Walker, Seattle's No. 1 prospect and MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect, to drive in one run, then sandwiched a sacrifice fly around a pair of strikeouts to finish off his session.
Walker, combining a mid-90s fastball with a couple of nasty curves, struck out two in his first inning of work and finished with four punchouts in his two innings while throwing 35 pitches.
James Paxton, the Mariners' No. 5 prospect and No. 61 overall prospect, continued a rough stretch this spring by giving up four runs and needing 47 pitches to get through the first two innings before being replaced by Walker. Paxton, who was knocked out of his last Cactus League start after just two-thirds of an inning by the A's, didn't get much help from his teammates, either.
All four of Paxton's runs were unearned after a pair of errors by shortstop Nick Franklin in the second inning. The left-hander gave up three hits and a walk that frame and finished the day with four runs and four hits with one walk and no strikeouts.
Dustin Ackley, the only Mariners' regular position player in the lineup, went 1-for-3 with a leadoff single in the first.
• The Mariners have two games on Friday, with a Cactus League game against the Angels at 1:10 p.m. PT in Tempe and a World Baseball Classic exhibition against The Netherlands at 7:05 p.m. in Peoria.
Jeremy Bonderman will get the start and is expected to throw four innings against the Angels, with Andrew Carraway to follow. Jon Garland will be on the hill first against The Netherlands, with Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor and Tom Wilhelmsen also slated in relief. Garland also is penciled in for four innings.
• There will be no radio coverage of Friday's game against the Angels, but the night game against The Netherlands will be carried live on 710 ESPN Seattle.
• Casper Wells returned to the lineup on Thursday after sitting out four games with a stiff neck. The Mariners' outfielder still was tied for the Cactus League lead with 12 RBIs going entering play on Thursday.
• Mariners relievers lead all Major League teams in strikeouts this spring with 122 going into Thursday's games. The next closest team was the Blue Jays with 112, while the Royals were second in the Cactus League with 100.