It could have been worse, the way Mariners manager Eric Wedge saw it.
Saunders gave up seven hits, including five doubles, and Seattle managed just two runners over the final seven innings of a 6-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night.
"It felt like the balls had some funny stuff on them," said Saunders, who walked four and struck out three. "It just felt like some of them were just taking off. My arm felt good. It was just tough to grip the ball."
Seattle took a 2-0 lead before Saunders (0-1) ran his pitch count up in the third when he yielded a leadoff double to Coco Crisp, then walked Jed Lowrie and Chris Young. Yoenis Cespedes drove in Crisp with a sacrifice fly to center, but Saunders limited the damage from there.
The A's went up 4-2 in the fourth on Lowrie's double to left-center after Josh Reddick doubled and Crisp reached on a fielder's choice.
That ended Saunders' night, though Wedge didn't seem too concerned about his veteran left-hander.
"When he came out he was looking strong," Wedge said. "He controlled damage about as well as he can, considering everything. He was just never able to lock it in. We got to see the bulldog in him. We saw the fact that he would bend but not break."
Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Morse homered in the first, but A's starter Tommy Milone settled down and retired 17 of his final 18 batters while pitching seven innings.
It was the third homer in two games for Morse, a key offseason acquisition for the Mariners.
Lowrie and Young hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning, while Nate Freiman had two hits and an RBI in his major league debut as Oakland knocked around Saunders and two relievers after managing just one run and six hits in the first two games of the series.
"Jed's been swinging the bat well, and it's nice to get Chris going too and get him on board," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "When you're on a new team like both those guys are you want to impress early on. All the way around it was a good game for us today."
Lowrie, acquired in a trade from Houston just before the start of spring training, went 3 for 3 with a walk and three RBIs. His tiebreaking two-run double off Saunders in the fourth put the A's ahead for good.
Oakland had seven extra-base hits overall: five doubles and two home runs. Eight A's had at least one hit while four drove in at least one run.
Milone (1-0) allowed only one baserunner after the second inning, finishing with one walk and four strikeouts. Sean Doolittle pitched the eighth and Chris Resop worked the ninth to complete the five-hitter.
Gutierrez got the Mariners off to a nice start when he hit the fourth pitch from Milone over the wall in left for his second career leadoff homer. Morse, who led the majors with nine home runs in spring training, tacked on a two-out drive to center.
Freiman's first career hit got Oakland on the board in the second. But the rookie first baseman was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Scott Sizemore's double to left.
Freiman later singled in the fourth then made a sliding catch in front of the photographer's well near Seattle's dugout in the fifth.
Lowrie and Young added consecutive home runs off Kameron Lowe in the seventh.
Milone, tied for the team lead in wins as a rookie last season, and two relievers did the rest.
Milone gave up a leadoff single to Jesus Montero in the second, then walked Jason Bay before getting Robert Andino to hit into a double play. Seattle didn't get a runner past first base the rest of the game.
NOTES: Seattle has not started a season 3-0 since 1995. ... RHP Brendan Maurer will make his major league debut for Seattle on Thursday. He'll oppose Oakland RHP A.J. Griffin, who went 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in two starts against Seattle in 2012.
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