For game 23, on a whim, the Mariners rolled out a new look at the top of their lineup when Michael Saunders served as the leadoff hitter.
Abraham Almonte filled that role for each of the first 22 games. He dropped to second Saturday when the Mariners continued their weekend series against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field.
“Just tinkering,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Trying to get better. That’s all. On a whim. Just followed my gut. Just sat down, made out a lineup and said, `I’m going to lead Saunders off, and hit (Almonte) second.’”
The move comes with Almonte batting just .215 and carrying a .263 on-base percentage. Saunders entered the night with a .176 average (6-for-36) and a .237 OBP.
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“Look, I don’t have any magic answers,” McClendon said. “I’m just searching. I’m trying to spark the offense.”
Saunders started only seven of the club’s previous 22 games and has struggled, at times, to adjust to duty as a backup outfielder.
“I’ve embraced the role,” he said. “It’s not something I want to be in. It will take some work to get out of it. But I’ve embraced it, and I’m trying to do the best I can with it.”
McClendon said Saunders’ stay as leadoff hitter might be a one-day move.
Or it might not.
“I’ve always said, `Managers don’t make out the lineup,’” McClendon said. “`Players do.’ If (Saunders) gets three knocks, there’s a pretty (darn) good chance he’ll be hitting leadoff (Sunday).”
Asked who made out Saturday’s lineup, McClendon laughed: “I’m not sure. I think it was the third scotch. So, I don’t know.”
Jokes aside, it’s not a new role for Saunders; he started 28 previous games as the leadoff hitter in his six seasons, but he hasn’t done it in nearly 11 months: June 2, 2013 at Minnesota.
Saunders’ track record is spotty in the role: a .232/.298/.336 slash (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) over 124 plate appearances with three doubles, four homers and 10 RBIs.
But for one day, at least, Saunders batted first.
“Tomorrow?” McClendon parried. “I don’t know about tomorrow. I know about today. Heck, tomorrow, he might be hitting fourth. You never know. Then you’ll really say I’m crazy.”