Michael Saunders hurt his right shoulder in the first inning of a game on April 9 against the Astros, crashing into the wall to make a great catch. And now, 19 games later, Saunders is back in the lineup. The Mariners have missed him, going 7-12 in his absence (including a loss in the game in which he was hurt).
Saunders said he was determined to let his rehab run its course, even when Franklin Gutierrez went on the DL as well.
“I feel I learned a lot last year from my groin injury, coming back a little too early,” he said. “We made sure we checked off a few things on the list to make sure I was ready. I’m back here because I’m ready to go…We have great outfielders, guys that have been starters their entire careers. We weren’t really hurting, for that matter. But when you have an outfielder go down, and a few days later another one goes down, by no means does it help the club. It didn’t hurry up my timetable, though. It wasn’t like an added urgency to get back. It was when I was ready.”
Saunders played three games with Tacoma over the weekend in Las Vegas (where it was in the 90s), including two appearances at DH and one in center field yesterday. Asked what he needed to see, Saunders said, “Really, just that I’m competitive right now and I’m able to go out and help the club. That’s the biggest thing. I can’t rush back and be a burden just to get out there. I have to make sure I’m ready to help the club.”
Saunders got in some hard swings, which were a good test for the shoulder. He didn’t get much action in the outfield, but believes he will be able to throw well enough.
“It’s not 100 percent,” he said of his throwing, “but I was able to play out in center field the other day, and that was the biggest test. I’m able to do my job. Unfortunately, there were no balls in gap. I played catch, and was able to get to 140 feet on consecutive days. That’s more than enough in the outfield. My main goal is to be able to hit the cutoff man. Basically, if you hit your first cutoff man, you’re going to get more outs normally than if you overthrow and try to get him out at the base. My goal is to get the ball in as soon as possible, make sure I hit my cut, and my job is finished with.
Shortly after the injury, Saunders said he would make the exact same play if it came up. But he sounds like he’s going to try to be prudent.
“If I can catch the ball, I’m going to try to catch it,” he said. “If the ball beats me to the wall, I’m going to have to pull up and play it off the wall. There’s no point in playing scared. I’m out there to play hard. That’s the way I’ve always played. That was one of the tests, make sure I feel like myself.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he likes Saunders at the top of the batting order, particularly with Gutierrez out, and hopes to be able to play him regularly.
“I told him, let’s take it day by day,” Wedge said. “My plan is of course for him to play every day, but let’s see. He didn’t get a whole lot of action yesterday in the outfield. Let’s see how much action he gets today, how he feels, and go from there.”
Dustin Ackley, despite a nine-game hitting streak in which he’s 13-for-32 (.406), is sitting today against Baltimore lefty Zach Britton. Wedge wants to give Ackley periodic rest for his surgically repaired ankle, and prefers to do so against lefties.
“Not that I won’t play him against lefties, but he was the odd man out today,” Wedge said.
Mariners pitchers have begun taking batting practice in anticipation of interleague play. The Mariners will play two games at Pittsburgh on their upcoming road trip (May 7-8). This year, however, interleague play is more spread out because of the addition of the Astros to the American League, ensuring at least one interleague game every day of the season.
“There’s a lot of starting and stopping with regards to getting them ready to play,” Wedge said. “But that’s just the way it is.”
Hisashi Iwakuma is listed as the starter at Toronto on Sunday night, but Wedge said that might still be adjusted depending on the progress of the blister that has plagued the pitcher all season. The Mariners would like to give it extra time to heal up.
“We’re still working through that,” Wedge said. “He at least will get a little more time; we’re just not sure how much time. A lot of that will depend on where we see the finger the next couple of days, how he feels when he throws his bullpen.”
Erasmo Ramirez, sidelined all season with arm problems, is throwing in Arizona, but Wedge didn’t exactly exude optimism about his progress.
“How close he is, I’m not exactly sure,” he said.
Josh Kinney, on the 60-day DL with a stress reaction on the third rib in his left side, is progressing and may be ready to begin a rehab assignment soon. He’s not eligible to come off the DL until May 31, but pitchers are allowed 30 days in a rehab stint.
Wedge said that John Stearns, the Mariners’ minor-league catching coordinator, is likely to fill in for Jeff Datz on the upcoming road trip. Datz was recently diagnosed with cancer and will be undergoing treatment.
“John is here, and he’ll be on the bench with us the next couple of nights, and he’ll step in at third base when Datzy is not able to be with us,” Wedge said.