SEATTLE -- Michael Saunders is making a strong case for himself as the No. 2 hitter in the Mariners lineup as the 27-year-old right fielder has hit .462 with seven runs, nine RBIs and four extra-base hits in seven games in that spot going into Tuesday night's contest with the Angels.
Manager Lloyd McClendon had Saunders sandwiched between leadoff man James Jones and No. 3 hitter Robinson Cano again Tuesday and indicated that top of the order likely will get more time going forward.
"Saunders also did a nice job in the leadoff spot for us," he said. "But with Jones leading off, we tried him a little lower in the lineup and it hasn't worked as well. So for the foreseeable future, he'll probably be in the two-hole."
Saunders says it helps to have the speedy Jones in front of him to create concerns for pitchers when he gets on base. And having Cano behind him means he's getting good pitches to hit as opponents certainly aren't looking to walk him and face Cano.
McClendon agrees that all makes a difference.
"I think it has a lot to do with the guy hitting in front of him," said McClendon. "And the guy behind him, too, but the guy in front of him can run a little. Anytime you take a little concentration away from the pitcher, it's going to help."
With Jones and Cano both being left-handed hitters, McClendon had been moving Saunders out of the two spot in favor of a right-hander when facing southpaws in order to balance the lineup better. But on Monday, he stuck with Saunders in the two-spot against lefty Tyler Skaggs and he went 2-for-3 with a triple and two runs.
Saunders feels he hits lefties just as well as right-handers and he's backed that up with a .313 average and .770 OPS against southpaws compared with a .259 average and .717 OPS this year against right-handers.
"When I face lefties, it actually helps me stay closed and keep my front shoulder in there," he said. "I've never really had too big of a problem in my career. I don't get uncomfortable or feel like I need to pull off the baseball. If anything, it actually helps me keep my front shoulder in there and stay on pitches."
Walker set for first rehab start; Paxton shut down
SEATTLE -- Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker is scheduled to start Wednesday for Triple-A Tacoma in a 7:05 p.m. PT game against Salt Lake at Cheney Stadium, his first rehab start since being shut down in mid-April due to soreness in his throwing shoulder.
But the news isn't as promising with southpaw James Paxton, who will be shut down at least five to seven days after an MRI Tuesday showed inflammation in his left shoulder following his initial rehab start Saturday for Tacoma.
The club also announced that right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor is going on the seven-day Minor League disabled list after being diagnosed with an impingement in his throwing shoulder while pitching for Tacoma.
Paxton was examined by team physician Ed Khalfayan after lingering soreness from his three-inning outing, when he threw 62 pitches in his first game action since straining his left lat muscle on April 8.
The 25-year-old will be prevented from throwing until the inflammation goes away, which the club hopes will be within a week or so. There had been hope that Paxton was close to rejoining the rotatation after another rehab start, but that now will be on hold.
"It is tough when you get that close to being back and then have something hold you back a little bit, but we just have to take it one day at a time right now and take care of it so I can get back out there as soon as possible," said Paxton. "I think it's just from upping the intensity after not throwing for a while. I don't think it's a big, big deal. I just have to give it a little time."
Paxton opened the season with the Mariners and was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA before being shut down following his second start of the year in Anaheim. The British Columbia native is 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in six career starts after debuting last September.
Walker, 21, will throw about 70-75 pitches in his first outing for the Rainiers, manager Lloyd McClendon said. The hard-throwing youngster is ranked as the No. 6 prospect in baseball by MLB.com and was 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three late-season starts for Seattle last year.
The 2010 first-round supplemental Draft pick was expected to open this season in the Mariners rotation, but reported to Spring Training with a sore shoulder that limited his early work and then had to be shut down again in mid-April after making two Minor League rehab starts with Class A Advanced High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
• Robinson Cano said he got spiked in the right ankle by the Angels' Kole Calhoun on a slide at second Monday, but the issue wasn't serious. Nick Franklin was at second base Tuesday as Cano moved to designated hitter, with McClendon saying it was just a planned day to keep Cano fresh.
"Just a chance to get him off his legs a little bit," McClendon said. "We've had 50 games and he's played 50 games. Any chance we get to DH him, we're going to do that."
• Cano's 65 hits in his first 50 games are the fourth most by a Mariners infielder in the first 50 games of a season. Alex Rodriguez had 68 in 1997 and 67 in '96, while Joey Cora had 66 in '97.
• Mariners right-hander Chris Young is the only pitcher with seven or more starts at Safeco Field without a loss. Young improved to 5-0 with a 2.82 ERA in eight career starts at the stadium with Monday's 5-1 win over the Angels. Four of those starts have come this year with Seattle as he's 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA at home.