4/26/2014 9:52 P.M. ET
Saunders slides into leadoff spot
By Adam Lewis / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon shook up the lineup Saturday night against Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis by moving leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte down to the No. 2 spot and putting reserve outfielder Michael Saunders at leadoff.
Why the change?
"Look, I don't have any magic answers. I'm just searching. I'm just trying to spark the offense," McClendon said. "Ask me again tonight at about 10 o'clock and I'll tell you what I like about [Saunders]."
Saunders responded by hitting his first home run of the season to lead off the bottom of the first. He finished the game 1-for-3 with a strikeout.
Saunders has been the team's fourth outfielder in 2014, primarily serving as a defensive replacement or pinch runner late in games. Almonte has started all 22 games in center field and hit leadoff but entered Saturday with a .215 batting average and a .263 OBP, including five walks and a team-high 33 strikeouts.
McClendon said he wasn't sure if Saunders would remain in the leadoff spot if he turns around his slow offensive start, though he did reiterate the lineup will ultimately be determined by who is performing. Entering Saturday, the Mariners ranked 13th in the American League in runs (3.7 per game) and 14th in batting average (.226).
"I'm just tinkering, trying to get better, that's all … I don't know about tomorrow. We're about today. Tomorrow, he might be hitting fourth. Then you'll really say I'm crazy."
In limited playing time, Saunders is just 6-for-34 (.176) with no home runs, two RBIs and eight strikeouts. But he has experience in a leadoff role.
"I'm just going to try to put up a professional at-bat. Depending on the situation, you usually only lead off the game once and that's your first at-bat," he said. "We've seen Lewis before. I'm not necessarily going to go up there and take pitches. I'm going to be selectively aggressive, and that was my mindset when I was leading off last year. My main goal is to get on base."
Since Almonte and first baseman Justin Smoak are switch hitters, Seattle's lineup will include seven lefties when they try to win their first series since sweeping the Angels to begin the season.
How did McClendon think up the new lineup?
"I'm not sure," he said. "I think it was the third scotch."
Iwakuma nearing return, first rehab start
SEATTLE -- Mariners right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to make his first rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma in Las Vegas after a rainout at Cheney Stadium earlier this week forced him to throw a simulated game at Safeco Field.
Iwakuma, who missed all of Spring Training with a strained finger tendon on his throwing hand, is scheduled to throw five innings and max out at 80-85 pitches, according to manager Lloyd McClendon. Assuming there are no setbacks, he'll be ready to stretch his pitch count to 90-95 and go "six or seven" in his next start, McClendon said.
It remains to be seen if that will take place with the Mariners on their 10-game, three-city road trip, or if the club will hold him back for another start in the Minors.
"We'll see how he does," McClendon said. "I'm not ready to say whether or not he'll be with us. I just want him to have a good outing, a healthy outing and then we'll evaluate after that."
Cano swinging at better pitches
SEATTLE -- Robinson Cano wasn't slumping during Seattle's 1-6 road trip, but it got to the point where manager Lloyd McClendon had to remind the All-Star second baseman to not try to do too much when the Mariners weren't scoring many runs.
"My talk with him was real simple. Take your walks. He's no different than any other big-time player I've had in the past. I had to remind them to take their walks." McClendon said. "When you start expanding, then you're going to be no good because hitting is hard as it is, and now you're trying to hit balls on top of them and it won't work."
In Friday's 6-5 win, Cano grounded out his first two at-bats, including a double play in the first, before adjusting to how Texas starter Robbie Ross Jr. was pitching him. In the fifth, Cano worked the count to 3-2 before ripping a double over the head of left fielder Michael Choice, driving in two runs. He sparked the Mariners' four-run eighth with a leadoff single to raise his average to .291.
"I always go through that," Cano said of his tendency to chase pitches early in the year. "Not only me but every player. Every player goes through that and expands the zone and chases pitches. It's different when you have to face the same team a lot. You get to know everybody, how they pitch and how they like to pitch lefties and righties."
Mariners salute to Armed Forces Night
SEATTLE -- About a half hour before first pitch Saturday night at Safeco Field, the Mariners teamed with Boeing to honor members of the U.S. military as part of the 13th annual Boeing Salute to Armed Forces Night.
Six branches of the military were represented during a special pre-game ceremony that paid tribute to members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force Reserve, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard and Washington National Guard. Members from each simultaneously threw out the First Pitch and all on hand were given a standing ovation before the sixth inning. Before the game, high-ranking officers from each branch were awarded commemorative plaques and Ryan Nabors from Disabled American Veterans delivered the lineup card. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon took time to shake everyone's hand.
As part of the pre-game festivities, Specialist Raymond Deleon of the U.S. Army played Taps and the National Anthem was performed by the I Corps Army Band from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. God Bless America was performed during the seventh inning stretch. Outside of Safeco's gates representatives from V.F.W Post 2995 collected donations to support troops serving overseas. Meanwhile, the first 15,000 fans in attendance received a commemorative coin.
• Cano is batting .421 (8-for-19) during his five-game hitting streak and has registered a hit in 18 of his 22 games this season.
• Third baseman Kyle Seager is hitting .333 (7-for-21) with three extra base hits and six RBIs in his last six starts.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.