5/29/2013 2:45 A.M. ET
Even without surgery, Saunders indebted to Yocum
By Gregg Bell / Special to MLB.com
SEATTLE -- Joe Saunders and Kendrys Morales didn't have to have Dr. Lewis Yocum operate on them to appreciate the renowned orthopedic surgeon.
In fact, Saunders says he owes much of his career to the Angels' longtime team orthopedist and one of the country's most noted practitioners in the field of sports medicine -- because he didn't operate on him when he was a young, top prospect.
Yocum passed away Saturday from liver cancer at the age of 65.
"He was a pioneer, and a shoulder to lean on," said Saunders, the Mariners left-hander whom the Angels drafted 12th overall in 2002.
Saunders had shoulder pain after most of his 13 starts for two Angels' Class A affiliates during the summer of 2002. The following spring Yocum diagnosed fraying of the labrum in his pitching shoulder.
Instead of performing one of the surgeries for which he was a baseball hero to countless players, Yocum put Saunders on an intensive rehabilitation and exercise program for about a year. It cost the pitcher his entire 2003 season -- but not his career.
"He pretty much told me, 'This is what you need to do. This is what it would take. Here's how you do it,'" Saunders said.
"I owe a lot to him. I owe a whole hell of a lot to that man for what he did for me."
Two seasons after completing Yocum's non-surgery treatment, Saunders was the Angels' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He made his Major League debut that season, in August 2005. He was 7-3 for the Angles in 2006, then won 33 games for them over the 2008 and '09 seasons.
That earned him a huge new contract, with a raise from $475,000 to $3.7 million in 2010.
More than 1,200 Major League innings later, the 31-year-old Saunders is 81-70 in his nine seasons with the Angels, D-backs and Mariners entering Wednesday night's start at San Diego. He is signed through 2013 on a contract that has paid him $18 million the last three years.
So, yes, he owes plenty to Yocum.
"The thing is, it was very impressive to me that for as esteemed as he was in his field, he was so down to earth," Saunders said. "We were pretty good friends. He would come up and shake your hands and say hi to you. I talked to him all the time.
"Just a great, great man."
The Angels signed Morales two years after they drafted Saunders. He played for them through December, when the Mariners acquired him for left-hander Justin Vargas.
"He was one of the very best in baseball. He was very good to me," Morales said of Yocum through a team interpreter following batting practice Tuesday.
Morales had two surgeries on his left ankle after he broke it in a home-plate celebration for a grand slam that beat the Mariners early in the 2010 season. The surgeries were done by Dr. Phil Kwong in Orange, Calif., and Dr. Thomas Clanton in Vail, Colo.
Yet Morales valued Yocum for what he did for every player, not just the ones on whom he operated.
"He knew everything about each player," Morales said. "He was great."
Morse day to day with quadriceps strain
SEATTLE -- Mariners outfielder Michael Morse left Tuesday night's game with a leg injury incurred while attempting to score from first base.
The Mariners announced Morse has a strained right quadriceps and his status is day to day. Manager Eric Wedge said after the 6-1 loss to the Padres that Morse would likely stay in Seattle on Wednesday to get evaluated and that the slugger could miss "a couple" of games.
"Ah, it's not bad. It just felt a little tight," Morse said late Tuesday. "Maybe in a day or two I will be back."
Morse got a late start leaving first base on a drive by Michael Saunders to the right-center-field gap against San Diego starter Edinson Volquez in the fourth inning. He was grimacing by the time third-base coach Daren Brown was waving Morse home in an attempt to score the tying run. By the time Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal had received the relay throw, Morse had slowed considerably. He appeared to let out a yell as he was tagged out easily.
"I think I was just trying to run too hard, harder than my body could," Morse said with a grin that portrayed his lack of concern that they injury was a major one.
To open the fifth inning, Jason Bay entered in left field and Endy Chavez moved from left to right field to replace Morse, who leads the Mariners with 11 home runs.
Morse walked and scored in Tuesday's second inning before he singled to set up his final play of the night. The 31-year-old, who was acquired from Washington in a three-team offseason trade, is batting .254 with 21 RBIs.
He has played in 45 of the Mariners' first 52 games, battling through a fractured pinkie finger on his right hand earlier this season.
Franklin fired up to make first big league start
SEATTLE -- Yes, he got into Monday's game late as a defensive replacement and even drew a walk in his first plate appearance in the Major Leagues.
But the big debut for Nick Franklin, the Mariners' 27th overall Draft choice from 2009, came Tuesday. He started at second base and batted seventh against San Diego's Edinson Volquez.
"More than excited about that," the 22-year-old Franklin said with a grin before batting practice, almost four years to the day he graduated from Lake Brantley High School outside Orlando, Fla.
He got a signed lineup card from manager Eric Wedge to commemorate his huge day.
The Mariners selected Franklin from Triple-A Tacoma on Monday. He said when he first got into the Mariners' system he saw himself on a relatively fast track to Seattle -- perhaps as fast as the man he is replacing, Dustin Ackley. The Mariners selected Ackley at No. 2 overall shortly before they drafted Franklin. Ackley debuted with Seattle in 2011.
"I thought it would be sooner than later," Franklin said.
He quickly realized he had much to learn in the Minor Leagues, primarily the nuances of situational hitting.
"Certain counts, certain situations, how early or late it is in the game, how all that affects hitting is what I had to learn," he said.
"I think this past Fall League [when he hit .338 for the Peoria Javelinas in Arizona], I figured it out."
Wedge said he hasn't "planned out" how many consecutive starts Franklin might get beyond Tuesday. His arrival came days after Seattle promoted fellow Rainiers middle infielder Carlos Triunfel, and it coincided with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan having hits in 11 of 12 games with six multi-hit days entering Tuesday.
"But," Wedge said of Franklin in Seattle, "he's going to play."
Smoak's ailing oblique feeling 'much better'
SEATTLE -- First baseman Justin Smoak walked through the clubhouse after more ice and electric stimulation treatment prior to batting practice and said his strained oblique was "much better." Smoak hasn't played since Saturday, when he injured his right side on a checked swing.
He hit off a tee then received cut-off throws near the pitcher's mound during Tuesday's rare pregame infield-outfield practice. Manager Eric Wedge expects Smoak to take batting practice on Wednesday before the Mariners open a two-game series at San Diego.
Smoak thinks he could be back in the middle of the lineup either against the Padres or almost certainly when Seattle plays this weekend at Minnesota.
"It's not at the point like there's a knife in my side," he said. "It's more a tightness thing."
• Manager Eric Wedge said reports remain good on Franklin Gutierrez during the center fielder's rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Tacoma. He said the team will continue having him play for the Rainiers for the time being. Gutierrez has been on the disabled list since April 23 with a strained right hamstring. Rules mandate he cannot stay on a rehab assignment in the Minor Leagues beyond 20 days, which for him means beyond June 3.
• Kendrys Morales may have to be dragged onto the team plane as it leaves for San Diego following the game. Entering Tuesday's homestand finale he was batting .462 (18-for-39) with five doubles, two home runs, 14 RBIs and a 1.244 OPS in his last nine games at Safeco Field.
• Erasmo Ramirez allowed three hits and two runs, one earned, in five innings for Double-A Jackson to begin a rehabilitation assignment. He walked two and struck out three. A candidate for the Mariners' rotation during Spring Training, Ramirez was optioned late in March. He then developed triceps tendinitis and went on the Minor League disabled list.
Gregg Bell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.