ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Outfielder Michael Saunders expected to return to the Seattle Mariners’ lineup “in another day or so” after an examination of his sore right shoulder revealed no structural damage.
“I’m doing some exercises, and it feels better today,” he said before Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. “We were pretty confident the day of (the injury) it wasn’t going to be long.
“This is just proving that it is going to be day to day. ... But it’s not going to take any significant length of time. I’m already feeling a little bit better today.”
The injury deprived the Mariners of one of their hotter hitters. Saunders has batted .356 over his past 17 games, raising his season average to .280.
“We’ll see how he’s feeling (Monday),” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Hopefully he’s in there.”
Saunders, 27, experienced the discomfort Friday on a swing in the third inning. A Rays team physician examined him Saturday.
“He checked it out, and there was no structural damage,” Saunders said. “That’s the first thing I was worried about. My strength is good. My shoulder is good.
“With it being my lead shoulder when I swing, and my throwing shoulder, we’re a little bit more hesitant than we would be otherwise.”
Saunders underwent surgery in 2008 on the same shoulder.
“That was the first thing I was worried about,” he said. “Same thing when I ran into the wall last year. But everything is strong, structurally sound. I’m confident it’s just going to be another day or so.”
CANO IN ALL-STAR LEAD
Robinson Cano widened his lead in the latest All-Star ballot update, released Sunday night by Major League Baseball.
Cano held a 224,336-vote lead over Detroit’s Ian Kinsler, who ranks second. Cano led Kinsler by 76,232 votes in last week’s update.
No other Mariners are listed among the balloting leaders. MLB releases the top five vote-getters for catcher, designated hitter and each of the four infield positions. It releases the top 15 outfielders.
In-stadium balloting runs through June 26, but online ballots are accepted at mlb.com and mariners.com through 8:59 p.m. (PDT) on July 3. The teams will be revealed the weekend of July 5-6. The All-Star Game is July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Cano seeks to be voted in as the American League starter for a fifth consecutive year.
First baseman Justin Smoak wasn’t in the starting lineup for the third time in four games because of a sore left quadriceps muscle.
“It’s still a little tight in there,” he said, “and I’ve got to just keep trying to loosen it up.”
Willie Bloomquist again replaced Smoak at first base.
“The problem is when he first comes out of the box,” McClendon said. “That’s when it grabs him. I’m just trying to get him to the point where it’s quieted down and (we) can put this issue behind us.”
Right-hander Taijuan Walker is slotted for the third start of his rehabilitation assignment Monday in Triple-A Tacoma’s game at Memphis, while left-hander James Paxton is scheduled to begin playing catch.
Both pitchers are recovering from shoulder soreness.
Paxton’s problem surfaced after a May 24 rehab start at Tacoma in his recovery from a strained back muscle. He opened the season in the Mariners’ rotation and won two starts before his back injury.
Walker’s shoulder soreness surfaced in February and returned during a rehab assignment in early April.
He labored through two innings in a rehab start Tuesday but could position himself for consideration for a spot in the big league rotation with a strong outing his next time out.
First baseman Ji-Man Choi is eligible to return to active duty Monday after serving a 50-day suspension, levied April 17, for testing positive for steroids.
Choi, 23, was off to a strong start at Tacoma, where he batted .394 with 18 total bases in 40 plate appearances over 10 games.
Activating Choi would require a corresponding move to clear space on the 40-man roster.
It was 35 years ago Monday — June 9, 1979 — that the Mariners staged “Willie Horton Night” at the Kingdome in recognition of Horton hitting his 300th homer June 6.
The promotion drew an announced crowd of 40,314, and Horton went 3-for-5 with a triple against Cleveland, but the Mariners lost, 4-3, in 10 innings.
Felix Hernandez, who set a career high with 15 strikeouts Sunday, has 1,809 for his career. That ranks 97th on baseball’s all-time list. ... Hernandez’s 15 strikeouts matched the major league high this season. Boston’s Jon Lester, a Bellarmine Prep graduate, had 15 on May 3 against Oakland. ... The 15 strikeouts also matched the most by any pitcher at Tropicana Field. James Shields (Rays) and Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox) each had 15 in 2012. ... The 17 strikeouts by the Rays matched a franchise record achieved four other times. ... Endy Chavez’s RBI single in the ninth marked the seventh time in his career that he has driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning or later. ... The Mariners recorded their third shutout in seven games after getting just one in their first 55 games. ... The Mariners have recorded seven shutouts in their history on June 8. The last time was 2012, when Kevin Millwood and five relievers combined for a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Safeco Field.
The Mariners and Rays conclude their four-game set — and their season series — at 10:10 a.m. Monday at Tropicana Field. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 6.82 ERA) gets another chance to hold his spot in the Mariners’ rotation when he faces Tampa Bay left-hander David Price (4-5, 4.03).bob.dutton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners