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Topic: Hunter Bledsoe

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February 22, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Another tool in the intriguing kit of Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders employs a pool noodle he calls “The lifejacket” to help keep his swing true. Photo Credit: John Lok/Seattle Times

We’ll launch the Cactus League season this afternoon at noon Pacific time when the Mariners take on the San Diego Padres. The starting lineup is posted on the turn page.

If you happened to read my story in today’s paper, you’ll see that Michael Saunders has added a “swiming pool noodle” to the interesting, somewhat unorthodox ┬álist of gadgets he is employing in order to keep his swing more compact and powerful. Saunders spent a second straight winter with Colorado-based private hitting instructor Mike Bard, who is taking on somewhat mythical dimensions around these parts when it comes to how he’s transformed the fate of a Mariners outfielder many had written off this time last year.

Coming on the heels of our Justin Smoak story the other day, in which he worked with his own agent, Hunter Bledsoe, a former college hitting star, I think it’s important to note the similarities between the two approaches.

In Smoak’s case, he and Bledsoe employed “slow practice” their first month together in the batting cage last October. Smoak would take anywhere from 30 seconds up to a full minute in order to take one swing — something that enabled him to focus on the minutae that goes into every part of perfecting the technique.

The idea was for Smoak to develop the muscle memory needed to carry out every part of the swing without having to think about it. Once he and Bledsoe sped things up in the months ahead, it became easier to swing properly and more true.

Saunders and Bard are not doing things exactly that way.

But something Saunders said to me stood out.

“Swinging is all muscle memory,” Saunders said. “And that’s the goal, to critique myself and be hard on myself and keep doing this over and over until I get it right.”

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