Mariners notebook: Saunders hits his way into additional playing time

Staff writerMay 2, 2014 

Mariners Yankees Baseball

Seattle Mariners' Michael Saunders follows through on a ground-rule double to drive in a run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Thursday, May 1, 2014, in New York.

FRANK FRANKLIN II — AP

— Outfielder Michael Saunders is drawing more playing time lately in the Mariners’ lineup because, to hear manager Lloyd McClendon tell it, “players make out the lineup.”

That’s one of McClendon’s pet phrases.

So when Saunders produced three hits Thursday in a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in New York, McClendon confirmed: “I’m true to my word. Players make out the lineup. Managers don’t.

“You get three hits, you find your way into the lineup the next day.”

This makes three starts in four games for Saunders, who admittedly struggled earlier this season in adjusting to duty as the club’s backup outfielder.

“The biggest thing for me is making sure my timing stays there,” he said, “which has been my biggest hurdle. When I’m in there, I understand I’m not always going to go three for four.

“I’m just looking to help this team in any way I can.”

Abraham Almonte’s ongoing struggles created a recent opportunity for Saunders, who responded by going four for nine with two walks in his three starting starts.

Sure, it’s a small sample.

Even so, it boosted his average and on-base percentage from .176 and .237 to .233 and .306. Those four hits include a homer and a double, which helped goose his slugging percentage from .265 to .395.

And it got him in the lineup on Friday. Beyond that?

“I'm not sure,” McClendon said. “You know right now with Almonte struggling a little bit, somebody has got to hit there. He’s the next guy up.”

Saunders played right field Friday but remained the leadoff hitter. Almonte returned to center field but batted ninth.

“I'm hoping that will relax him a little bit,” McClendon said, “and help him get going.”

Saunders isn’t changing his preparation because he was already preparing each day as if he would be in the lineup.

“Before I come to the park,” he said, “I prepare like I’m going to play. Even if I’m not in there, I’ve got to prepare like I’m ready to play (in case) I get called upon.

“It’s preparation. Preparing yourself like you are in the lineup. Taking your work in the cage seriously. Taking your BP seriously.”

And producing when the opportunity arises.

ROSTER MOVE COMING

The Mariners, barring something unexpected, will activate right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma from the disabled list in time to start Saturday’s game against the Astros.

“It’s been a long wait,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I’ve always wanted to be part of the team soon and contribute, so that said, it’s a very exciting day for me.”

Doing so will require a corresponding move to clear space on the 25-man roster; McClendon said, “In all likelihood, it will probably be a reliever.”

Lefty Lucas Luetge looms as a likely candidate. He has already spent two tours at Triple-A Tacoma and has pitched only once since his April 25 recall, when he replaced demoted starter Erasmo Ramirez on the roster.

Iwakuma was an All-Star in 2013 but is only now recovering from a strained ligament in his middle finger, which was diagnosed in early February. His outing comes after one rehab start at Tacoma.

“I feel good right now.” he said. “I feel strong in general, but the reality is I’ve only had one rehab start. So I’m obviously not 100 percent, but I’m good to go for a game.

“So we’ll go from there and hopefully things work well tomorrow and I get the pitch count up higher than what we had in Las Vegas (83 last Sunday for Tacoma.”

SHORT HOPS

Injured pitchers James Paxton (strained back muscle) and Taijuan Walker (sore shoulder) are tentatively scheduled to start throwing bullpens next week, but manager Lloyd McClendon said Blake Beavan (sore shoulder) hasn’t yet been cleared to throw. … Outfielder/DH Logan Morrison (strained right hamstring) remains in Seattle and hasn’t yet been cleared to start running. … The Mariners entered Friday with an 11-9 record against opponents with a .500 or better record (at the time played) but were just 1-5 against opponents with losing record. The Astros carried a 9-19 record into the weekend series. … When Roenis Elias struck out 10 Yankees in Thursday’s victory, he became the 17th Cuban-born pitcher in major-league history to reach double figures. The last one to do it in the American League was Jose Contreras for the White Sox on May 25, 2008 against the Angels.

LOOKING BACK

It was 16 years ago Saturday — May 3, 1998 — that Dan Wilson hit an inside-the-park grand slam in a 10-6 victory over Detroit at the Kingdome.

Wilson circled the bases on a two-out drive to center in the first inning against Frank Castillo. The Mariners built a 5-0 lead in the first inning and led 10-2 after two innings.

An inside-the-park slam isn’t as rare as it might seem. It had been done on 170 previous occasions in big-league history.

ON TAP

Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 2013) is slotted for his season debut when the Mariners continue their three-game series against the Astros at 1:10 p.m. (PDT) Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

Houston plans to start lefty Dallas Keuchel (2-1 and 3.56). Root Sports will carry the game.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com
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