ARLINGTON, Texas — Michael Saunders wants to play every day, but right now he isn’t. The Mariners and acting manager Robby Thompson are trying to find playing time in three outfield spots for Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Michael Morse and Raul Ibañez.
It hasn’t been easy. The Mariners want to see if Ackley’s conversion to outfield is working, and they are also showcasing Morse to possibly make a waivers trade to a team in need of a power bat.
As a result, Saunders has been out of the starting lineup for half of the games on this road trip, including the first two games of the series in Texas.
“Any time you aren’t in there — and I’m sure I speak for everyone else in the room — it’s no fun,” Saunders said. “You want to be out there playing. We are going to sit from time to time. We aren’t happy when we do, but nevertheless you just have to understand the situation.”
On Sunday, he got a start and made the most of it, racking up a season-high three hits, driving in a run with a double and also scoring a run in the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers.
Saunders is trying to find ways to stay sharp with the adjusted playing time.
“I just come to the yard every day expecting to play, and if I’m not in there I have to make sure I’m ready to go late in the game or whenever they need me,” he said. “It’s just preparation. It’s something I have to learn to do. It’s something I’m not really used to having to do in my career.”
Saunders’ first big contribution came in the fifth inning. He notched his second single off Rangers starter Yu Darvish — a hard liner to right. He advanced to second on Dustin Ackley’s infield single. With runners on first and second and no outs, Thompson had Humberto Quintero try a bunt. Saunders got a little too far off the bag and Texas catcher A.J. Pierzynski fired to second base.
“In all honesty, I’d like to say it was a great read and me and Robby rehearsed that play, but I just got caught flat-footed,” he said.
Saunders couldn’t go back to second, so he headed to third base. Elvis Andrus caught the ball at second, but couldn’t make a throw to third and Saunders was safe.
“Luckily it worked out, but it was not a good read,” Saunders said. “I did think about going back, but I was dead. I’m out. So I just took off for third.”
Saunders scored moments later on a fielder’s choice from Endy Chavez to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
In the sixth inning with the score tied at 1-all, Saunders again faced Darvish. After falling behind 1-2 in the count, Saunders watched a slider in the dirt, fouled off two more sliders and then hammered a hanging slider for a double to right to score Nick Franklin from second.
“Darvish is a strikeout pitcher and he’s got the kitchen sink,” Saunders said. “He throws anywhere from 90-97 mph, sinkers, cutters and he’ll mix up his breaking balls. I was just looking to put the ball in play. I was just really battling.”
All three of Saunders’ hits came off Darvish.
MORSE, PEREZ STRUGGLING
At some point during the season, every player goes through a rough patch.
Both reliever Oliver Perez and outfielder Morse are in the midst of their own struggles.
Perez had an abysmal outing on Saturday, giving up six runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning. Since July 19, he’s made 10 appearances, pitching 6 innings and given up 13 earned runs for an 18.47 ERA. Opponents are hitting .486 against him during that time with a 1.379 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“He’s just not controlling the counts very well,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “I think earlier in the year we saw a lot more first-pitch strikes, which allowed him to utilize his slider, change speeds and get the hitter guessing. Right now, he’s just behind in way too many counts.”
Perez’s routine hasn’t changed. He isn’t bothered by injury. His mechanics are essentially the same.
“More than anything else, arm side, the ball just seems to be running away from him a little bit,” Willis said. “From a mechanical standpoint, everything still looks the same. Whether it’s a little bit of fatigue, that’s possible. Hopefully, we can resolve it quickly.”
As for Morse, the idea of showcasing him might not be working so well. While Baltimore and Texas are both looking for designated hitter-types, Morse’s struggles have really hurt his trade value.
Since returning from the disabled list on July 30, he’s hitting .161 (9-for-56) in 14 games with 15 strikeouts and a .286 slugging percentage.
Pitchers are busting fastballs in on his hands. Morse can’t or won’t lay off those pitches. He also isn’t getting his hands through fast enough to pull balls down the line and hit them hard. His power is to center and right field when he gets his massive arms extended and opposing pitchers are not allowing him to do that. When he does get pitches out over the plate, he is missing them.
“It’s selection,” Thompson said. “They are pounding him in and a lot of those pitches he’s getting jammed on are actually off the plate and in. Until he lays off those or can cheat and get out and maybe even pull those balls foul with authority, then maybe they’ll stay away. But right now, until he makes an adjustment, they are just going to keep pounding him in there.”
The Mariners open a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics at 7:05 p.m. Monday at O.co Coliseum. Seattle is scheduled to send right-hander Aaron Harang (5-10, 5.77 ERA) to the mound against Oakland right-hander Jarrod Gray (8-6, 3.87 ERA). The game will be aired on Root Sports, 710-AM and 1030-AM.email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish