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April 15, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Michael Saunders says he’s concerned more about “good at-bats” than batting average right now

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The temperature took a plunge in Kansas City overnight and they’re saying we could drop to the high 30’s for tonight’s game. One guy used to cold weather is fellow Canadian Michael Saunders, getting a whole lot of playing time of late as the M’s try to figure out whether he’s their long-term answer in left field.
Saunders is currently playing center field with Franklin Gutierrez out. It’s the position Saunders came up at, so he said the adjustment hasn’t been as difficult as it might have been for others.
At the plate, he’s still getting used to his new batting stance — which allows him to hold back longer before committing to his swing. So far, he’s hitting just .200 on the season. He’d bunched together more hits since being given regular playing time, but now is 0-for-6 in his last two games.
“Obviously, my average isn’t where I want it to be,” Saunders told me this afternoon. “But it’s still very young in the season. The thing that I’m trying to concentrate on is just having good at-bats. Success doesn’t always mean a hit. And that’s what I’m trying to concentrate on. Everytime I step in the box, I want to have a good at-bat. Try to put the bat over the ball.
“I’ve hit some balls hard,” he added. “Hit some balls hard off lefties, which is very encouraging to me. I’ve also hit some balls hard the other way, which is also very encouraging to me.”
The more peripheral statistics seem to bear this out.
Saunders has a higher line drive rate than last year — 21.1 percent versus 16.5 percent. His batting average on balls in play is also at an obscenely low .220 compared to .260 a year ago. The .260 mark was already below league average, so .220 — coupled with the higher line drive rate — appears to back up the contention that Saunders is hitting the ball hard only to have it caught for outs.
He’s also averaging 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, compared to 4.19 last year. So, he’s seeing about the same, or just a bit more, but doing something extra with the ball as well. The only difference is, the hard-hit balls are not falling in for hits.
At least, so far. It’s been a small sample size. And it’s early — as he mentions.
Saunders feels that if he keeps the approach the way it’s been, the hits will start dropping in for him and everything will even out over the course of a season.

For now, at least, the Mariners are playing along. Saunders is back in there tonight in center field and batting seventh.
You’ll remember that, yesterday, when I asked manager Eric Wedge about whether he’d considered going to a six-man bullpen when David Aardsma and Gutierrez return, he was non-committal. But that’s not the same as ruling the idea out entirely. In fact, Wedge had said he likes the idea and had already discussed it with pitching coach Carl Willis.
This is important because it means the team is at least considering it. And a six-man bullpen would likely mean keeping Saunders as well as Milton Bradley and Jack Cust as they go forward. At this stage, this early, the team is highly unlikely to jettison either Bradley (who is hitting well), or Cust (who is not hitting). So, for Saunders to stick in the next week or 10 days, the team would likely have to go to a six-man pen.
In other news, David Aardsma was to throw a simulated game today, but that’s been put off because of the weather here. It’s a lot cooler than yesterday with a misty type rain now falling as the Royals go through batting practice.
The M’s will try to have Aardsma throw a simulated game about 10:45 a.m. local time tomorrow, but that depends on the Royals’ plans for the field pre-game. Aardsma may very well wind up just throwing an extended bullpen session.
Tonight’s lineup features more changes, whith slumping Jack Wilson — in an 0-for-13 slump — on the bench and Luis Rodriguez in his place at second. Adam Kennedy is in at first base for Justin Smoak and batting fifth. Cust is back in there today, hoping to up his .175 average and so is Miguel Olivo, in an 0-for-20 slump but really the only true catching option this team has right now.



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