M’s notebook: Saunders on the mend, expects to return shortly

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Outfielder Michael Saunders expects to return to the Mariners’ lineup “in another day or so” after an examination of his sore right shoulder revealed no structural damage.

“I’m doing some exercises, and it feels better today,” he said prior to Sunday’s game against the Rays. “We were pretty confident, the day of (the injury), it wasn’t going to be long.

“This is just proving that it is going to be day to day … But it’s not going to take any significant length of time. I’m already feeling a little bit better today.”

The injury deprived the Mariners of one of their hotter hitters. Saunders was batting .356 over his previous 16 games, which raised his overall average to .280.

“We’ll see how he’s feeling (Monday),” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Hopefully, he’s in there.”

Saunders, 27, experienced the discomfort Friday on a swing in third inning. He underwent an examination Saturday by the Rays’ team physician.

“He checked it out,” Saunders said, “and there was no structural damage. That’s the first thing I was worried about. My strength is good. My shoulder is good.

“With it being my lead shoulder when I swing, and my throwing shoulder, we’re a little bit more hesitant than we would be otherwise.”

Saunders underwent surgery in 2008 on the same shoulder.

“That was the first thing I was worried about,” he said. “Same thing when I ran into the wall last year. But everything is strong, structurally sound. I’m confident it’s just going to be another day or so.

Smoak update

First baseman Justin Smoak wasn’t in the starting lineup for the third time in four games because of a sore left quadriceps muscle.

“It’s still a little tight in there,” he said, “and I’ve got to just keep trying to loosen it up.”

Willie Bloomquist again replaced Smoak at first base.

“The problem is when he first comes out of the box,” McClendon said. “That’s when it grabs him. I’m just trying to get him to the point where it’s quieted down and (we) can put this issue behind us.

Rehab work

Right-hander Taijuan Walker is slotted for the third start in his current rehab assignment Monday in Class AAA Tacoma’s game at Memphis, while lefty James Paxton is scheduled to begin playing catch.

Both pitchers are recovering from shoulder soreness.

Paxton’s shoulder problem surfaced after a May 24 rehab start at Tacoma in his recovery from a strained back muscle. He opened the season in the rotation and won two starts before his back injury.

Walker is recovering from shoulder soreness that surfaced in February and returned during a previous rehab assignment in early April.

He labored through two innings in his previous rehab start but could position himself for consideration for a spot in the big-league rotation with a strong outing.

Short hops

Felix Hernandez, in addition to setting a career high with 15 strikeouts, now has 1,809 in his career. That ranks 97th on baseball’s all-time list. … Hernandez’s 15 strikeouts matched the major-league high by anyone this season. Boston’s Jon Lester had 15 on May 3 against Oakland. … The 15 strikeouts also matched the most by any pitcher at Tropicana Field. James Shields (Rays) and Chris Sale (White Sox) each had 15 in 2012. … The 17 strikeouts by the Rays matched a franchise record achieved on four previous occasions. … Endy Chavez’s RBI single in the ninth marked the seventh time in his career that he’s driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning over later … The Mariners, as a staff, recorded their third shutout in seven games after getting just one in their first 55 games. … The Mariners have recorded seven shutouts in their history on June 8. The last time was 2012, when Kevin Millwood and five relievers combined for a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Dodgers at Safeco Field.

Minor details

First baseman Ji-Man Choi is eligible to return to active duty Monday after serving a 50-day suspension, levied April 17 for testing positive for steroids.

Choi, 23, was off to a strong start at Tacoma — batting .394 with 18 total bases in 40 plate appearances over 10 games.

Activating Choi would require a corresponding move to clear space on the 40-man roster.

Looking back

It was 35 years ago Monday — June 9, 1979 — that the Mariners staged “Willie Horton Night” at the Kingdome in recognition of Horton hitting his 300th homer on June 6.

The promotion drew a crowd of 40,314, and Horton went 3-for-5 with a triple (a triple!) against Cleveland — but the Mariners lost 4-3.

On tap

The Mariners and Rays conclude their four-game wraparound series, and their season series, at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Monday at Tropicana Field.

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (1-4 with a 6.82 ERA) gets another chance to hold his spot in the rotation when he faced Tampa Bay lefty David Price (4-5 and 4.03).

The Mariners open an eight-game homestand Tuesday at Safeco Field with the first of three games against the New York Yankees. They then play three games against Texas and two against San Diego before returning to the road.

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