4/9/2014 3:47 A.M. ET
Saunders taking team-first attitude
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- Michael Saunders said he's focused more on putting up good at-bats than his early-season batting average at this point, knowing the first will take care of the latter over the long haul.
But, yeah, after an 0-for-8 start over the first five games, the Mariners outfielder was happy to get his first two hits of the season on Sunday so that he does have a number behind his name when he comes to the plate.
"Of course," Saunders said prior to Tuesday's home opener. "I was the last guy with an average, and I'm glad to get on that ship. It's a long year and whatever I can do to help the club win ... it's a lot of fun right now and we had a great road trip.
"It's not about one guy, it's about the team. If I come in for the seventh as a defensive replacement, then I want the ball hit to me. I want to play a part in helping the team win."
Saunders is adapting to his early role with the club. He started just two of the team's first six games and wasn't in the lineup Tuesday against the Angels as manager Lloyd McClendon went with right-handed Stefen Romero against southpaw Hector Santiago.
Even against righties, Saunders is splitting time with fellow lefty Logan Morrison. But Saunders is the team's best defensive outfielder and McClendon has inserted him in every game so far in the late innings in right field.
"I'm on pace for 162," Saunders said with a smile.
And he's doing what he can to get his timing down at the plate, where he's hit the ball hard several times without getting a positive result.
"I'm just trying to do my work in the cage, my video work, take BP serious," he said. "A good at-bat doesn't always result in a base hit. A box score sometimes tells lies. So I'm more concentrating on going up there having a good professional at-bat. Whether it's coming in for the seventh or starting a game, that's my mindset."
McClendon's substitutions have paid off so far, sometimes in uncanny fashion, as Saunders has immediately made several key catches after coming into games in late innings, including a shoe-string catch of a low-liner in the eighth on Saturday to help preserve Felix Hernandez's 3-1 win.
"The ball will find you, it always does," Saunders said. "It never fails. And it's not just me. That's how it works. We were talking about that the other day. LoMo never got one play, then I come in and I get three plays in two innings. So whether it's starting a game or a defensive replacement, I just need to make sure I'm ready."
Paxton pulled with strained lat muscle
SEATTLE -- Rookie southpaw James Paxton was removed from Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Angels on Opening Night at Safeco Field with no outs in the top of the sixth due to a slightly strained lat muscle behind his left shoulder.
Paxton will have an MRI exam on Wednesday to determine the severity of the injury. Mariners officials are concerned about the situation, but Paxton didn't think it was too serious after initial tests.
"It's just a little strain," said the 25-year-old Canadian. "I'm going to go get an MRI to see what exactly is going on in there, but I just want to be careful right now. My strength is still good, they said, so I just want to get it checked out."
Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor missed almost all of 2013 after partially tearing his lat muscle and then having complications when he tried to return midseason, but Paxton's preliminary diagnosis indicated a strain and not a tear.
Paxton was taken out after throwing just 60 pitches. After giving up back-to-back home runs in the first to Albert Pujols and David Freese, Paxton had retired 14 straight before a leadoff single in the sixth by Kole Calhoun.
Manager Lloyd McClendon and trainer Rob Nodine hustled to the mound after the youngster shook his left arm following a first-pitch ball to Mike Trout following Calhoun's base hit. McClendon said they were watching carefully after Paxton had reacted to another pitch in the fifth.
"I saw him shaking his arm," McClendon said. "I went out, that kind of alarmed me a little bit. I knew something was up, then he told us. I think it happened the inning before, because he shook his arm once in kind of a weird way. I talked to him on the bench and he said, 'No, I'm OK.' He went back out and I didn't see that."
Paxton departed with a 4-3 lead, and the bullpen shut the Angels out to preserve his win. He's 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA on the season and 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his six-game career.
"In the fifth inning there, the last batter, I just felt a little tweak," Paxton said. "I felt fine between innings, so I didn't think it was going to be anything. I threw those cutters to the first hitter Calhoun, and that was fine. I just felt it again when I threw the fastball to Trout."
After a quick conversation, Paxton walked off the field with Nodine as reliever Yoervis Medina was called in from the bullpen. Paxton allowed four hits with no walks and four strikeouts in his five-plus innings.
Paxton came into the contest 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in five career starts, including four last year as a September callup.
According to Elias, he was just the second pitcher in Major League history to go 4-0 or 5-0 in his first five games, all starts, with an ERA under 1.25. The other was Boo Ferriss of the Red Sox, who went 5-0 with a 0.60 ERA in 1945.
Cano excited for opener at Safeco Field
SEATTLE -- Robinson Cano enjoyed a very successful season-opening road trip with the Mariners, but the club's new star is eagerly awaiting his first homestand at Safeco Field starting with Tuesday's Opening Night. And not because he got booed by fans in Anaheim and Oakland.
That part comes with the territory, said the man who signed a $240 million deal to play for Seattle for the next decade.
"I'm not surprised. They're in the same division," Cano said of the not-so-welcoming welcome from Angels and A's faithful last week. "If I was a fan, I'd be the same way. You don't want your opponent to get better. I'll take that. I don't care about when we play on the road. I only care about my home crowd. That's where you're going to play more games than anywhere else."
Cano's presence, not to mention a 4-2 start against two American League West rivals, signals that things could be changing for a Seattle club that hasn't made the playoffs since 2001.
"This team can compete with anybody, not only in our division, but in the league," said Cano. "In the past, everybody saw this team as young kids that need to learn and grow. Now it's different. Now we're in a different place, and that's not something your rivals want to see."
Cano enters the home opener batting .391 after hitting safely in all six games, but he was far from alone as the Mariners got off to a solid start and ranked second in the AL in extra-base hits and third in runs per game.
"Thank God we're playing like that. The little things are helping," Cano said. "We'll continue doing the same thing. Everything I see wrong, I'm going to tell the guys. Because as a teammate, I cannot let bad things go long. We just have to go out and be good teammates. We have to root for each other and help each other.
"You don't want to play 162 games and go home," he said. "You want to compete and play. Who knows what is going to happen from here to Oct. 1?"
Cano said he had about 30-35 family members at Safeco Field for his home debut, his first Opening Day that isn't with the Yankees.
"This is one of the days you dream of as a kid, coming in before your home crowd," he said. "You get butterflies in your stomach and you hope you come up in a big situation and do your job and see how the crowd reacts."
Iwakuma ready to take step in rehab process
SEATTLE -- Hisashi Iwakuma, who was shut down since early February, will throw off the mound for the first time on Wednesday. The All-Star right-hander is scheduled for a 30-pitch bullpen session, manager Lloyd McClendon said Tuesday.
Iwakuma, 32, has been sidelined since just before Spring Training opened after spraining a tendon in his right middle finger while catching it in a netting during a throwing session in Los Angeles.
The Japanese star is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list, but he'll need to build up his arm strength with several bullpen sessions and then a Minor League rehab stint, most likely with Triple-A Tacoma.
McClendon said Iwakuma is "probably a little ahead of schedule" and could move through the rehab process quicker than has been the case for 21-year-old prospect Taijuan Walker, who is scheduled to make his second Minor League rehab start this week for Double-A Jackson.
If Walker stays on a five-day schedule, he'll start Wednesday when the Generals open their home season against Chattanooga.
"We want to try to keep him in warm weather as long as we can," said McClendon, who hopes to build Walker up to 80-85 pitches after he threw 72 for Class A High Desert on Friday. "This gives us an opportunity to move him to a higher level and still stay in a fairly decent climate."
Walker could be close to rejoining the Mariners after his next start, while Iwakuma still has several weeks before reaching that point. McClendon did note that Iwakuma normally is a very efficient pitcher and should be able to get deeper into early games without having worked up to as high of a pitch count, but he isn't committing to a time frame for Iwakuma's return.
"I think it's going to be a session-to-session thing, just like it was with Walker," McClendon said. "Traditionally, if you look at Kuma's history, he's been able to go through seven innings within a fair amount of pitches. He's a strike thrower. So if I had to guess, I'd think his progression will be a little faster. But having said that, we're still going to be very cautious with him."
• Felix Hernandez celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. His 1,722 career strikeouts are the fourth most by an MLB pitcher prior to turning 28.
• When the Mariners opened the season with a 4-2 road trip, it was the 11th time in the club's 38-year-history they started 4-2. It was Seattle's first winning road trip to start a season since going 5-2 in 2009, which is the last year the club finished with a winning record at 85-77.