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03/23/2013 8:45 PM ET

Saunders far removed from free-agent uncertainty

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As left-hander Joe Saunders prepares for a Sunday start that figures to be his last outing in Arizona before the Mariners break camp, he's a long way from the uncertainty of free agency that extended all the way into February.

Slated to be the Mariners' No. 3 starter, Saunders signed with the Mariners on Feb. 12, ending his first foray into free agency.

"It was a tough experience, I'm not going to lie," Saunders said. "It was nerve-racking, not knowing where you're going. It was the first real free agency for me, and it was an experience, for sure. It's a good one to be over with. I feel bad for Kyle Lohse."

While Lohse, coming off a strong 2012 season, remains a free agent, Saunders has settled in with the Mariners after signing a one-year deal worth $6.5 million -- a little late, but early enough to get the veteran working with his new club, the fourth of his career. Saunders' numbers have been rough this spring with seven earned runs on 13 hits in 6 2/3 innings of Cactus League play, so a sharp outing Sunday against the D-backs is in order.

Having established himself with the Angels and then playing on playoff teams in Arizona and then last year in Baltimore, Saunders is bullish on the Mariners' chances this year.

"The sky's the limit here. There's a very high ceiling," he said. "I've been on a dark horse a lot of times in my career, and I kind of like being an underdog. We're right where we need to be. This team is hungry, these guys are hungry and we're going to surprise some people."

Montero OK after taking bat to head behind plate

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Catcher Jesus Montero was struck on the side of the head by a bat in the second inning of the Mariners' game Saturday against the Indians at Peoria Stadium, and was carted off the field.

Montero, with a towel on the right side of his head, gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as he sat on the cart with training staff attending to him on the way back to the team's clubhouse.

"He's got a good-sized bump on his head, but he was OK out there," manager Eric Wedge said.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said Montero did not sustain a concussion, but the team is keeping a close eye on the 23-year-old catcher to ensure he's OK.

Francisco Lindor, a left-handed batter, swung through a Blake Beaven pitch, and as his swing wrapped around his body, the head of the bat struck Montero in the right side of the head. Montero went down immediately, and was on the ground for several minutes as the Mariners and Indians trainers attended to him before they helped him to his feet and onto the cart.

Montero has been hitting the ball well all spring, going 12-for-34 with six doubles. He was 0-for-1 before being struck on the head.

The club won't know until Sunday at the earliest how soon Montero will be able to return to action.

"We'll see," Wedge said. "I think he's going to have trouble getting a helmet on with the size of that bump on his head."

Beavan survives 'fiesta' of a day in long outing

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Blake Beavan, one of four candidates for two open spots in the Mariners' rotation, battled into the sixth inning Saturday against the Indians, reaching the 100-pitch mark but allowing nine runs on 16 hits in the process.

Beavan said afterward he was having trouble getting the ball down in the strike zone and might have been rushing his delivery, but mostly he was just glad to survive the Cactus League ride.

"Just one of those you want to look past, and good thing you got it done in Spring Training," Beavan said. "That was a fiesta today. I couldn't believe it myself. Every time I tried to make a better pitch or I did make a good pitch, they still found a way to get a hit."

As manager Eric Wedge and the rest of the Mariners' brain trust continue to look at the likes of Beavan, Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez and Jeremy Bonderman for the No. 5 spot, Wedge said it's important to look at the big picture with each of them, not just one rough outing -- or one good one, like Beavan had his last time out.

"You evaluate everything -- the good days and the not-so-good days -- and you figure out why with the conversations you have," Wedge said. "We assess everything really in its entirety, really talk about the entire spring and their path to get here and where they are right now."

Versatile Seager gives Mariners infield option

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kyle Seager, who burst onto the scene as the Mariners' regular third baseman last year, was in a familiar spot Saturday when he started at second base, where he played in the Minors, in college and handful of times in the Majors.

After playing all nine innings the night before at third, Seager was ready to hit the field again Saturday, regardless of the field position, because Opening Day is coming and full games of at-bats are welcome.

"We're getting really close here, so you definitely have to start ramping it up and getting your body to play full games," Seager said. "It's definitely nice getting in the swing of things and getting some more at-bats."

Putting Seager at second base with Robert Andino at short was part of preparing the Mariners to have some versatility in the infield.

"He'll play over there every now and again, along with Andino, who's had a nice spring for us," manager Eric Wedge said. "[Andino] can play all three, and with Kyle we like to bounce him from second base to third base, too. It just gives us more options with our lineup."

Coming off a breakout season in which he earned Mariners MVP honors with 20 homers and 86 RBIs, including 44 with two outs, the 25-year-old Seager says he has benefited from a full year's experience and now a camp with an influx of veterans who have been there before.

"I learned a lot last year, and I learned that there's a lot to be improved upon as a team and personally," he said. "I think with a lot of the veteran guys that they brought in this year we can learn a lot, and I think they've helped everybody."

Worth noting

• Hisashi Iwakuma pitched in a Minor League game against the Reds' Triple-A squad, throwing the equivalent of 7 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on 10 hits while striking out five batters. He pitched in seven frames but four outs were used in a couple of those innings so he could get his work, and he wound up throwing 91 pitches, 65 for strikes.

• Justin Smoak raised his spring average to .408 with a 3-for-5 day at the plate, including a pair of doubles that give him a team-leading seven in Cactus League play. Raul Ibanez also had three hits, including his fourth homer of the spring.

• Starter Jon Garland was officially released by the club Saturday, the day after he exercised an opt-out clause in his contract so he might get another job in the Majors if the Mariners decided not to start him in the rotation, which they told him Friday was the case. Garland, who underwent shoulder surgery and hadn't pitched since June 2011, went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA for the Mariners.

The club also announced that first baseman Mike Jacobs asked for and was granted his release. The moves leave the Mariners with 32 players still in camp, including five non-roster invitees.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.