Felix Hernandez will have his press conference at Safeco Field this afternoon, but down here in Arizona, the rest of his pitching and catching teammates are preparing for their first workout of spring training. The team is presently meeting with manager Eric Wedge and the coaching staff in the clubhouse. Among those taking the field at 8:30 a.m. PT will be Joe Saunders, recently signed to shore-up the middle of the rotation following the departure of Jason Vargas for the Angels.
Saunders, 31, is coming off a 2012 season in which he was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles and actually started — and won — the inagural wild-card play-in game against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards last October.
“It was a lot of fun,” Saunders said. “It was nerve-wracking as heck. My numbers in that ballpark obviously weren’t very good. It was just another…you look at it asanother opportunity to prove people wrong. I just tried to go out there and give the team a chance to win. We won that game and then we took the Yankees to five games and lost in New York. It was a fun run.”
Saunders has had the opportunity to pitch in several post-seasons already between his time with the Angels, the Diamondbacks and the Orioles.
“I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to be in the post-season five times,” he added. “It’s definitely a great opportunity, you cherish it. Each and every time you get there, you want to get back there again because you never know when it’s going to come again. So, you just kind of relish it and do everything you can.”
Which sort of begs the question of why Saunders chose to come to Seattle, which has not made the playoffs since 2001. Saunders did, after all, have a chance to go back to Baltimore and was courted by several teams.
“I liked where this organization was going,” he said. “I thought they made some good moves, some good trades. I’m familliar with the division and hoping to have some fun. Try to take another team, hopefully, to the post-season, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Saunders is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA lifetime in nine starts at Safeco Field pitching against his new team.
“I pitched against Seattle a lot,” he said. “I remember coming to Safeco. I loved the ballpark, loved the feel of the ballpark. It was just a thing about, where do I want to pitch? What’s easiest for your family and stuff like that. It was just an easy decision for me.”
Well, there is the whole thing about the fences coming in. I asked Saunders how much he looked at that issue prior to signing.
“I was talking to one of the doctors and he said they moved the fence in a little bit in left-center,” Saunders said. “So, you’ve just got to be careful middle-in to these right-handed hitters. So, other than that, you just keep pitching your game. I’ve put up some pretty good numbers here at Safeco, so hopefully it will continue.”
About those righties: they hit .307 with an .849 OPS off Saunders last year. Granted, opponents hit .343 off him at hitter-friendly Camden Yards and .317 against Saunders at the pitcher’s nightmare known as Chase Field, so maybe the parks had something to do with it. I asked Saunders whether he felt that might account for his poor numbers facing righties — though they are .286 lifetime off him with an .804 OPS.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What were my numbers against righties last year? Probably righties were a lot better than lefties, I’d imagine. That seems to just work itself out, honestly. I don’t really focus on that. If it’s an all-righty lineup, you’ve got to pitch to them. You’ve still got to go out and pitch your game. You make minor adjustments here and there, but other than that you just go out there and do your thing.”