ANAHEIM -- Michael Saunders was back with the Mariners on Thursday, exchanging happy hugs and handshakes with teammates after the birth of his daughter Monday in Colorado.
Saunders' wife, Jessica, delivered their first child, Aria, on Monday night after he'd flown home following Sunday night's game in Seattle.
"It was unbelievable," Saunders said. "No experience in baseball will ever duplicate what I just went through. It was extremely tough to leave, but I know I have a job to do here and luckily it did come later in the season so it'll only be a week before I get to see her again."
Saunders was immediately inserted back in left field by manager Eric Wedge for Thursday's series finale against the Angels.
Saunders is looking to finish his breakthrough season strong. He's hit .313 over his last 23 games, raising his season average to .251 with 17 home runs, 51 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. But in seven days, he'll be happy to return to Colorado to spend more time with his new addition.
"You meet somebody for the first time and it's head over heels in love," he said.
Amid caution, Felix to pitch on Monday at Safeco
ANAHEIM -- Though the Mariners are being careful with Felix Hernandez's workload down the stretch, manager Eric Wedge said his ace will make his final start on schedule on Monday at Safeco Field against the Angels.
Wedge pulled Hernandez after six innings and 103 pitches with a 3-2 lead on Wednesday and he wound up with a no-decision when the Angels rallied against the Mariners bullpen for a 4-3 win.
Hernandez is second to the Tigers' Justin Verlander in the Majors in innings pitched with 226 2/3.
This is his seventh straight year with 30 or more starts and he's one of just four Major League pitchers to surpass 200 innings in each of the last five seasons, joined by Verlander, the Giants' Matt Cain and the Rays' James Shields.
He also is one of just four pitchers with 200-plus strikeouts in the last five seasons, along with Verlander, the Giants' Tim Lincecum and the Phillies' Roy Halladay.
That's exclusive company and the Mariners are doing their best to keep Hernandez in one piece. He hasn't thrown more than 103 pitches in his last four starts and thus wasn't surprised when Wedge pulled him Wednesday.
"That was a lot of pitches and we're in September. Skip is trying to save my arm. It's good," Hernandez said. "My last game I was at eight innings and 100-some pitches and he took me out, so I had a pretty good idea."
"It's tough, but you just do the right thing for the right reasons," said Wedge. "That's what we did last night and that's what we always try to do. Felix has thrown a certain number of innings again this year and I feel like he's been strong. He was as strong as he's been all year last night. I loved his fastball and liked the end on his pitches. We want him to finish strong and feel good when he's done."
Classic muddles Mariners' Winter Ball planning
ANAHEIM -- The Mariners are still deciding which of their players should play Winter Ball, a decision complicated this offseason by the World Baseball Classic.
Some of the Mariners have played in the Classic in the past, including Felix Hernandez in 2009 for Venezuela, and that tournament runs into March for countries that reach the finals.
Alex Liddi played for Italy, Miguel Olivo played for the Dominican Republic and Hisashi Iwakuma and Munenori Kawasaki were members of champion Team Japan in 2009, while some of the younger Mariners, such as Canadian Michael Saunders and Nicaraguan Erasmo Ramirez, could certainly be considered for their national teams this year.
Olivo, Iwakuma and Kawasaki are all free agents, but the Mariners will consult with players under their control about their plans for the Classic as well as Winter Ball.
"The biggest thing for me is pitching and making sure we handle that the right way, whether we want them to play at all, or play early or late," manager Eric Wedge said. "Then we have to factor in the whole WBC thing. That's the X-factor. So we're still working through it."
Hernandez is an interesting case, given he's just finishing up his fifth straight season of 200-plus innings for the Mariners and obviously is a huge part of their plans for the future.
"The thing about it is, it's somewhat of a personal decision," Wedge said. "You can give suggestions or opinions, but ultimately they've got to be included in that process, for sure."
Saturday's game at Oakland will not be televised, as the 1:07 p.m. start time falls into FOX's exclusive Saturday window, but is not being picked up by the national network. Sunday's game will be televised by ROOT Sports, but the radio broadcast is on KTTH 770-AM due to a conflict with the Seahawks on the normal 710 ESPN Seattle broadcast.
Wednesday's season finale between the Angels and Mariners at Safeco Field is a 3:40 p.m. PT start, which is a change from the 7:10 p.m. listed on early schedules.