By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Saunders has played himself into being more than a fill-in center fielder in the absence of Franklin Gutierrez — he’s impressed Seattle fans and their manager.
With multiple-hits in four of his last eight games going into the Tampa series, he’s batted .333 in that span with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBI.
Manager Eric Wedge said it’s been the result of a lot of hard work on the outfielder’s part, but at least as much due to a new mindset.
“A year ago he was probably the most in-between player we had,” Wedge said. “This year, he’s not in-between in the way he plays, the way he hits or in his conviction.”
And the extra-base hits? Saunders has eight doubles in 66 at-bats this season after totaling 11 last year in 236 at-bats.
“He always had power and you’d see it in batting practice,” Wedge said. “It just didn’t translate into the games.”
So what happened?
“Sometimes it’s not about the future, it becomes time to perform,” Wedge said. “Sometimes the light comes on.”
John Jaso hasn’t caught a game for the Mariners yet this season, and many Seattle fans have used social media to complain about the fact.
In Tampa, no one seems the least surprised — from writers to team officials to Rays players. Jaso, who played three seasons with the Rays, was universally liked in Tampa, but his reputation as a catcher was that he made a fine designated hitter.
Olivo homers again
Miguel Olivo extended his hitting streak to eight consecutive games with a second-inning home run and has homered in each city of this three-stop road trip.
“He’s a natural pull hitter working up the middle a lot better lately,” Wedge said. “He’s been more consistent with his approach. Miguel is our catcher, so we need him to hit.”
Eight of the nine lead off home runs Chone Figgins has hit in his career have been hit left-handed. … Among the press box visitors Monday was former general manager Woody Woodward, still a Mariners scout in the southeast. … Jesus Montero is slowly testing his craft behind the plate in Seattle, but this much is certain. When he catches, he hits. In eight starts a catcher for he Mariners, Montero is batting .333 with two home runs and 10 RBI. … Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is learning on the job with his new gig in the bullpen. Though he’s appeared in just two games, the Mariners say it now takes fewer pitches — and less time — to warm up. That, in turn, could lead to his being used more than in just long relief. As a starting pitcher in Japan, his warmup routine was more leisurely. … Alex Liddi has started nine times this season — and batted in five different spots in the lineup. For those scoring at home, Liddi has batted second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.