SEATTLE — Outfielder Michael Saunders, as expected, returned Friday from the disabled list and went immediately into the lineup after the Mariners cleared space by optioning Jesus Montero to Triple-A Tacoma.
Saunders batted seventh and played right field against Cleveland at Safeco Field. He was 9-for-20 in five games at Tacoma in his recovery from a sore right shoulder, which surfaced on a swing in a June 6 game at Tampa Bay.
“It was (a matter) of making sure my shoulder was healthy,” he said. “There was a point last year that I thought was a crucial learning experience for me — coming back from the same injury.
“Mind you, it was a little worse last year. But I felt I might have come back a little bit too early before I was ready. So going down early enough, and getting five games and 20 at-bats, made me trust it.”
The Mariners signaled the move was likely Wednesday when Saunders took part in batting practice prior to their 5-4 loss to Boston. Montero cleaned out his locker following the game.
Saunders was on a .356 surge (21-for-59) prior to his injury and was batting .265 overall in 52 games with four homers and 23 RBIs.
“Something I learned with rehab,” he said, “is the last 5-to-10 percent is trusting that you are healthy. It’s hard, sometimes, to really let things go the way you normally do after you’ve hurt something.
“I was able to do that without any limitations. I wouldn’t be here today unless I was ready.”
Montero, 24, was 4-for-14 in five games following his June 12 recall from Tacoma, including a two-run homer on June 17 in a 6-1 victory against San Diego.
He batted .270 in 59 games for the Rainiers prior to his recall with eight homers and 40 RBIs.
First baseman Justin Smoak (strained left quadriceps muscle) and outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart (strained left hamstring) remain with Tacoma on rehab assignments.
Smoak was 6-for-27 in seven games with one homer and three RBIs entering Friday. Hart was 5-for-17 with one RBI in four games.
“Just trying to get them to 100 percent,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Not 80 percent. They’re getting there.”
The Mariners have “not yet” decided — McClendon’s words — on a starting pitcher for Monday’s game at Houston.
That slot in the rotation previously belonged to Erasmo Ramirez, who was optioned to Tacoma after lasting just 41/3 innings Tuesday against Boston. The Mariners filled the slot by recalling reliever Brandon Maurer.
Taijuan Walker looms as the likely replacement after pitching a complete-game shutout Tuesday for Tacoma against Oklahoma City. Walker is currently with the Rainiers in El Paso.
“We have options,” McClendon said. “We just have to see who they are. We have options here or we could bring somebody (up). We’ll have to figure that out.”
Two minor-league outfielders, Jabari Blash and Jamal Austin, received 50-game suspensions from Major League Baseball after each tested positive for a second time for a drug of abuse.
The suspensions, which are without pay, commence immediately.
Blash, 24, was batting .210 in 45 games at Triple-A Tacoma with 12 homers and 37 RBIs. He was the Mariners’ eighth-round pick in 2010.
Austin, 23, was batting .262 in 63 games at Double-A Jackson with one homer and 16 RBIs. He was a 13th-round pick in 2011.
Walker and third baseman D.J. Peterson were cited by Baseball America in its weekly Prospect Hot Sheet .
It capped a big week for Peterson, who was chosen as the California League player of the week prior to his promotion from Class-A High Desert to Double-A Jackson.
Peterson went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk Thursday in his Jackson debut after batting .326 in 65 games at High Desert with 18 homers and 73 RBIs.
Walker drew notice after pitching a complete-game shutout for Triple-A Tacoma in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Oklahoma City.
The Mariners' first two picks in the June draft, outfielders Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan, had memorable pro debuts Thursday night in helping Peoria to a 10-8 victory against the Padres in the Arizona Rookie League.
Jackson, 18, batted third and served as the designated hitter while going 2-for-4 with a walk and a triple. He scored two runs and drove in two more.
Morgan, 18, batted fifth and played right field. He was 1-for-3 with two walks, one run and three RBIs.
Both players contributed to a three-run first inning with singles in their first at-bats. Jackson had a grounder into center for the game's first run. Morgan later added a two-run single on a line drive to right.
It was one year ago Friday — June 28, 2013 — that Mike Zunino’s walk-off single in the 10th inning produced a 5-4 victory against the Chicago Cubs as a prelude to the first fireworks show in Safeco Field’s history.
The game was also notable for shortstop Brad Miller making his major-league debut and Dustin Ackley making his first career start as an outfielder.
Miller went 0-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and a stolen base. Ackley started in center field and handled two chances with no problems.
Left-hander James Paxton threw a 25-pitch bullpen session in ongoing recovery from a strained back muscle. It was his first time on a mound since shoulder soreness surfaced after a May 24 rehab start for Tacoma. … The Indians announced lefty T.J. House will start the series finale Sunday after pushing back Justin Masterson, who is battling a sore right knee. … The Mariners, entering Friday, led the American League with a .987 fielding percentage. … The Mariners secured a winning June (15-9 before Friday) and have posted winning records in successive months (16-14 in May) for the first time since July-August 2012.
The Mariners and Indians continue their three-game weekend series at 7:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Lefty Roenis Elias (7-5, 3.74 ERA) will face Cleveland right-hander Josh Tomlin (4-5, 4.39 ERA).
Root Sports will carry the game.
After Sunday’s series finale, the Mariners depart on a six-game trip: Three games at Houston, and three next weekend against the White Sox in Chicago.