Michael Saunders aims to earn playing time

Staff writerSeptember 19, 2013 

— The 2013 season hasn’t gone exactly as planned for Michael Saunders. The Seattle Mariners’ outfielder was brilliant in the World Baseball Classic and had a solid first month of the season. Then an injury and subsequent trip to the disabled list, followed by inconsistency at the plate, torpedoed his season.

It has left him frustrated and finding himself out of the lineup more than he would like.

“I feel like I made a stride forward last year, and I feel like I made a stride backward this year,” he said.

Saunders’ numbers aren’t great. He’s hitting .237 with 10 homers and 42 RBI. He has struck out 108 times in 379 at-bats. He had a brutal 27-game stretch after coming off the DL in May, hitting .180 (18-for-100) with 39 strikeouts.

Now he’s fighting for playing time in a crowded Mariners outfield, which makes it difficult to find hitting consistency.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to you guys. But it’s the situation we are in right now with the outfielders we have. By no means have I earned an everyday spot out there. In order for me to get back on track when I do get the opportunity, I have to make sure I’m ready, and it starts with preparation in the cage and BP.”

He hopes a minor swing change he made in St. Louis and some recent success — three doubles and a triple in the Detroit series — are signs of better days ahead.

“It’s minimal, yet it’s encouraging,” Saunders said. “It’s something I feel like will help me stay more consistent.”

The change isn’t noticeable unless you are looking for it.

“I made a minor adjustment with my hands,” Saunders said. “I kind of have them further back and further up. I keep my same trigger, but it minimizes movement. It helps me basically be ready earlier. I felt like I was getting myself in a position to get a ball I wanted to attack, but I would foul it off or miss it. I think a lot of it had to do with not getting my hands in position to fire from on time. I’m just looking to simplify things. It’s a minor adjustment, but I really feel like it’s really helped me out the last couple of games.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge likes the change.

“I think what he’s doing now is so encouraging,” Wedge said. “It is less movement. It’s more subtle. It’s less violent, and it allows him to get back slower. When he’s good, as big as he is, he’s actually short to the ball. But when he gets in between, that’s when he gets some length to his swing.”

The change came after Saunders kept getting hittable fastballs that he would foul off, or he was “filleting them into left field.”

“It’s something I wasn’t doing last year,” he said.

FELIX TO START SUNDAY

Felix Hernandez threw a 58-pitch bullpen session before Thursday’s game, and it went well enough for the Mariners to schedule him to start Sunday.

As Hernandez walked by a Mariners media relations member, he said: “You can book it — Sunday.”

Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis supervised the session and was pleased by what he saw.

“Felix was back to being Felix today,” Willis said. “He was strong, threw all of his pitches for strikes and had great command.”

SHORT HOPS

Shortstop Brad Miller, who is recovering from a strained hamstring, did some pregame running and agility work. He’s getting closer to a return. “We’ll push him a little more (Friday),” Wedge said. ... Kyle Seager, who had two hits Thursday, was 2-for-40 in his previous 11 games. Seager has started 106 consecutive games at third base, and fatigue might be a factor for the struggles. “He’s made it very clear that he wants to push all the way through this, but we’ll just have to see,” Wedge said.

ON TAP

The Mariners open their final road series of the season Friday in Anaheim, Calif., against the Angels. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (5-2, 4.98 ERA) will start for Seattle against Los Angeles right-hander Jered Weaver (10-8, 3.36). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483
ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com
blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners
@RyanDivish

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