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April 10, 2011 at 6:51 PM

Time to give Michael Saunders more playing time

(Saunders makes a diving catch to rob leadoff hitter Michael Brantley. Photo by Associated Press).
Another day, another loss. That’s seven in a row, and it’s getting late early, as Yogi Berra once said. The Mariners managed just five hits on Sunday in their 6-4 loss to Cleveland and are now hitting .197 during their losing streak.
Since this season is supposed to be about transitioning to the next generation, I think it would behoove Eric Wedge to give some extended playing time to Michael Saunders. I’ve felt that all along, and feel more strongly about it after his home run, walk and diving catch on Sunday.

So far, Saunders has started five of the first nine games, four of them in center field and one of them — Sunday — in left. He’s hitting just .200 (3-for-15), but he’s managed to drive in a run in each of those games and now leads the team with five ribbies. Granted, that’s not a huge accomplishment on a team that’s scored just 29 runs, but it’s more production than anyone else. (He ties John Olerud’s 2001 record for most consecutive games driving in a run to start the season).
Saunders really seems to be taking to his revamped batting stance, which he implemented in the middle of spring training. He’s young (24) and athletic. It’s already evident this team is not going anywhere this year. Why not take a good look at one of the guys who could be part of a brighter future? It might be at the expense of playing time for Ryan Langerhans, who is doing a nice job so far but realistically should be a bench player. And if it takes time away from Milton Bradley, I can live with that, too.
Eric Wedge seems to be of a like mind regarding playing time for Saunders.
“You want to try to keep getting him in there,” he said after Sunday’s game. “It was a good day for Michael. He’s been working really hard with his swing and his new approach and mindset and the mechanics of all that as well. It was nice to see him punch one. Obviously, he’s very athletic in the outfield as well.”
Saunders seemed excited about the potential of his new batting style.
“I think it all started with spring training, when we tried out this new stance,” he said. “What it’s helped me to do is get my hands into a consistent place to fire from. It allows me to stay back, and let the ball travel to me rather than me jumping out toward that.
“From the moment I implemented it into a game in spring training, I was surprised at how comfortable I was. That’s the moment I really got excited about it and knew it was going to work for me. Through the good days and bad days, I just have to stay on top of it.”
I asked him how he felt the new stance affected his power.
“I don’t know about more power or less power. What I do feel from the new stance is a little more consistency. In spring training, I was able go the other way better than I have in the past. That’s really encouraging to me.”
Saunders wasn’t going to touch the question of his playing time.
“I told myself when I did get the opportunity to play, as cliche as it sounds, to try to put together good at-bats,” he said. “Hopefully, everything will play out. Do I want to be in the lineup? Absolutely. Do we have a bunch of outfielders that deserve to be in the lineup? Absolutely. I think that’s kind of been my mindset: When I do get an opportunity, try to put together good at-bats and hopefully everything will fall into place.”
More opportunities could — and should — be forthcoming for Saunders



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