Aggressive Saunders starting to pack power
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders came into this season vowing to be more aggressive at the plate, swinging harder and not being afraid to fail. That mental approach, along with a more compact stroke, seems to be paying off in a big way.
Not only is Saunders making more contact, hitting .333 over the past eight games to raise his average to .258 entering Monday, he's producing the kind of power the Mariners haven't seen in his previous parts of four seasons in the Majors.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder hit his eighth double of the season Sunday. Combined with three home runs, he's racked up 11 extra-base hits in 66 at-bats. Last season, he totaled seven extra-base hits in 161 at-bats and hit just .149.
"He's not in between by any stretch," manager Eric Wedge said. "And I felt like last year he was maybe more in between than anybody we had. This year he's been the opposite of that. He's up there with conviction. He's playing the game that way, whether offensively, defensively or on the basepaths. And good for him because he's had a tough time the last couple years, and all that work and change in mindset is paying off for him."
Saunders' slugging percentage of .515 is the highest of any Mariners regular and dwarfs his career number of .306 in 204 games coming into this year, but he had a .442 slugging percentage in the Minor Leagues, and the Mariners have been waiting to see if he could live up to the promise shown during his rise up the ranks.
"He's always had that kind of power, but he hasn't translated it into games," Wedge said. "He's always had power in his bat, but with the aggressiveness and his approach this year, you've seen it play out more."
Jaso not in Mariners' lineup for St. Pete return
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners catcher John Jaso returned to Tampa Bay on Monday for the first time since he was traded to Seattle over the offseason, while former Mariners backup Chris Gimenez is now filling that role for the Rays.
The two exchanged greetings with their former teammates before Monday's series opener, though neither was in the lineup.
Gimenez has played seven games for Tampa Bay, hitting .292 with two RBIs in 24 at-bats as the backup to Jose Molina. Jaso has strictly been used as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter for Seattle and is batting .294 with one home run and six RBIs in 17 at-bats.
Jaso was regarded more for his bat than his defense in Tampa Bay, where he hit .245 with 10 home runs and 71 RBIs in 203 games over the past four seasons. Seattle manager Eric Wedge said he could see some time behind the plate, but will continue to go primarily with Miguel Olivo and Jesus Montero in that role.
"I'd like to, but right now with trying to get Olivo going and getting Montero in there from time to time it's just hard for us," Wedge said. "At some point in time, he'll get a little time back there.
"He's a pro. He comes to the ballpark and prepares every day. He's somebody you can have up there late in a game who can turn a fastball around or get a big hit for you. There's a lot he offers."
• With 2,455 career hits going into Monday's game, Ichiro Suzuki is narrowing the gap on some Hall of Famers on the all-time hit list. Lloyd Waner is at 2,459, Ozzie Smith at 2,460 and Harry Hooper is at 2,466.
• The Mariners tied their season high with six extra-base hits in Sunday's 7-2 loss at Toronto with four doubles and two home runs.
• Michael Saunders was tied for fifth in the American League in doubles with eight after Sunday's games and is seventh among AL hitters with his .417 batting average against left-handed pitchers. Chone Figgins is tied for first in the AL with four sacrifice bunts, while Dustin Ackley has the most at-bats of any AL player who has yet to hit into a double play with 92.
• Alex Liddi ranks first among AL rookies with enough qualifying at-bats in batting average at .297. Jesus Montero's three home runs rank second behind Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes (five) in rookie home runs and he's also second to Cespedes in RBIs (19 to 12), while the two are tied for first in hits with 20.
• Mike Carp went 0-for-4 while playing designated hitter for Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday as he continues his rehab stint while recovering from a sprained shoulder. Carp is hitting .137 in 13 games (7-for-51). His 20-day rehab stint runs out Wednesday.