By Shannon Drayer
OAKLAND, Calif. – Michael Saunders is making his second start in right field. I have received a number of emails, tweets and comments asking why we haven’t seen more Saunders early on. If you were paying attention in spring training this shouldn’t be a surprise. Abraham Almonte is clearly the center fielder for now and with Corey Hart not ready to play in the outfield, the Mariners were taking good looks at others during the spring. Saunders, Stefen Romero and Logan Morrison have all received two starts in right so far. It has been a juggling act for manager Lloyd McClendon.
“Michael’s a tremendous defensive outfielder who can play all three,” McClendon said Sunday morning. “There’s a certain comfort with having him in the outfield. I would be lying to you if I said if I had a chance to DH Morrison or Hart and play Michael in the outfield I would rather do it the other way around. Obviously it gives us the best defensive outfield to have him out there. To this point everything has worked pretty nicely for us.”
McClendon is basically sacrificing defense for offense when Saunders is not out there and he knows it. It is not uncommon to see teams do this with one of the corner outfield positions. The commitments have been made to keep Dustin Ackley in left and Almonte in center unless they show they can’t handle it. So far so good with both. Almonte I think has shown he is better in center than expected and Ackley is improving. So the sacrifice is made in right when Saunders sits and so far the team has yet to be burned by it. It should be pointed out that McClendon has been quick to go to Saunders as a defensive replacement in games he did not start. This has worked out well for everyone, including Morrison, who saw Saunders make a tough play in right on the first ball put in play after he replaced him.
“He did great,” McClendon said of Morrison’s play in right. “He was excited to come out, too. When Saunders caught that ball he said, ‘That was one hell of a move, Skip.’ “
Abraham Almonte, 8
Brad Miller, 6
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, 3
Logan Morrison, DH
Kyle Seager, 5
Dustin Ackley, 7
Michael Saunders, 9
Mike Zunino, 2
McClendon is still taking things slow with Hart, who is not in the lineup today. Hart is still experiencing pain in his biceps when he swings the bat and with the off day Monday this was a good opportunity give him extra time to help quiet the issue. McClendon is encouraged by what he has seen at the plate from Hart.
“I think the light is starting to flick a little bit,” he said. “I can see the hands start to quicken up, he’s starting to recognize breaking balls better.”
• Tuesday’s Mariners home opener is a virtual sellout with only scattered single tickets remaining. Any tickets that are returned to the box office will be available at Mariners.com.
• Big day for DJ Peterson, who picked up Baseball America Prospect Hitter of the Day honors Saturday as he went 4 for 4 with two doubles and three RBIs for the High Desert Mavericks.
• Heading into today’s game, the Mariners were tied for second in the Majors with 22 extra-base hits. Justin Smoak is tied for the American-League lead in RBIs with seven.