© 2013 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

5/26/2013 4:42 P.M. ET

Saunders dropped to sixth spot in lineup

SEATTLE -- Michael Saunders was hitting sixth for a second game in a row on Sunday as manager Eric Wedge looks to help take the pressure off the struggling center fielder.

Saunders has hit .116 over the last 11 games going into Sunday as his batting average has plummeted to .221 after a strong start this season.

Endy Chavez filled the leadoff role on Sunday.

"He's just really struggling seeing the baseball right now," Wedge said of Saunders. "I wanted to drop him down a little and give him a chance to take a breath and see some hitters hit before him. He tries to compensate, like a lot of young players, by trying to do too much to make up for it instead of just slowing it back down again.

"He's a great competitor, so this is a good test for him. He'll come out of it and be fine, but you can't try to get it all back in one day or one at-bat. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is try to go up there and get hits. You just have to go up there and have a good at-bat. You can't control if you get a hit or not. But you can control if you go up there and see the ball and put up a good AB. He just needs to get back to the basics there."

Smoak sidelined, day to day with oblique strain

SEATTLE -- Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak was out of the lineup Sunday and is day to day after feeling the oblique muscle in his right side tighten during his first at-bat in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

Smoak stayed in the game for two more at-bats before telling the trainers and manager Eric Wedge that he'd felt something in his side while checking a swing early in the game.

"Hopefully it's nothing too crazy," said Smoak, who has hit .286 over his last 25 games and is second on the club in on-base percentage this season at .352. "I've done it before. It was bad last time, so it's not as bad like that. It's just a little tight. I felt like I had to say something. I didn't want to because it happened my first at-bat and I still got some more at-bats in.

"But I'm feeling it in my right side. I did it swinging right-handed, trying to stop. So I don't know. It's just a little tight. Hopefully we can just give it a couple days and everything will be all right."

Wedge sounded optimistic as well after Smoak checked in before Sunday's series finale with the Rangers.

"He felt a little better than we anticipated this morning, so we'll just have to take it day by day," Wedge said. "He's not going to do anything today, we just tested him out and got him in the water. It'll be interesting how he feels tomorrow. If he's any better than today, that will be key or is it exactly the same? We'll give it a couple days and go from there."

Kendrys Morales started at first on Sunday and will get the bulk of the duty there in Smoak's absence, though right fielder Michael Morse is also an experienced first baseman and will be an option as well.

Montero jumping into first-base duties at Tacoma

SEATTLE -- The Mariners have wasted no time throwing Jesus Montero into first-base duties in Triple-A Tacoma after sending him down to the Minor Leagues on Thursday.

Montero went 2-for-4 with a double and triple in Saturday's 9-5 win over Reno while playing his second straight game at first base. He's hit .300 in his brief duty and impressed manager Eric Wedge with his willingness to jump right into a new position after the Mariners decided his future might not be at catcher.

"That was a tough send-down," Wedge said Sunday. "He's a young man and really hasn't been through that before. For him to go down there right away and accept the whys and wherefores and play, good for him. That's what it takes. That's the first step. That means a lot."

As for a potential transition to first base?

"He's always dabbled in the infield and taken ground balls at first or third, just messing around with it," Wedge said. "It's one of the advantages of the Minor Leagues. You can do some things down there you can't do up here. We've got guys working with him and he's all-in with it. You learn that much quicker, if you've got the flexibility to do that."

Wedge feels the work ethic Montero needed as a catcher and his size will help him at first base, though he acknowledges the transition won't be easy.

"First base is a very underrated position," Wedge said. "There's a lot going on there, a lot of action and responsibility. So it's not something we take for granted. We don't just assume this is going to happen. It's going to take a lot of work and time to see if this is going to be an option for Jesus, but you've got to give it a shot."

Worth noting

• Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run in a 1-for-6 night Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma as he continued his rehab from a strained hamstring. Gutierrez played right field, which is where the Mariners have him working in anticipation of his eventual return. He's hit .132 in nine games with Tacoma.

"He's feeling better," manager Eric Wedge said. "We're just trying to give him as much time as possible to keep feeling better, to get him as far down the road as possible before we bring him back."

• Kendrys Morales was hitting .390 (16-for-41) with runners in scoring position entering Sunday's game, while the rest of the club was a combined .189. Morales is seventh in the AL with his .390 average.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.