Saunders hits his way into Mariners’ lineup

HOUSTON — Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders is drawing more playing time lately because, to hear manager Lloyd McClendon tell it, “players make out the lineup.”

That’s one of McClendon’s pet phrases.

So when Saunders produced three hits Thursday in a 4-2 victory over the Yankees in New York, McClendon confirmed: “I’m true to my word. Players make out the lineup. Managers don’t. You get three hits, you find your way into the lineup the next day.”

This makes three starts in four games for Saunders, who admittedly struggled earlier this season as he adjusted to duty as the club’s backup outfielder.

“The biggest thing for me is making sure my timing stays there,” he said, “which has been my biggest hurdle. When I’m in there, I understand I’m not always going to go three-for-four.

“I’m just looking to help this team in any way I can.”

Rookie outfielder Abraham Almonte’s ongoing struggles created a recent opportunity for Saunders, who responded by going 4-for-9 with two walks in his three starts.

Sure, it’s a small sample, but even so, it boosted his average and on-base percentage from .176 and .237 to .233 and .306. Those four hits include a homer and a double, which helped goose his slugging percentage from .265 to .395.

And it got him in the lineup on Friday. Beyond that?

“I’m not sure,” McClendon said. “You know right now with Almonte struggling a little bit, somebody has got to hit there. He’s the next guy up.”

Saunders played right field Friday but remained the leadoff hitter. Almonte returned to center field but batted ninth.

“I’m hoping that will relax him a little bit,” McClendon said of Almonte, “and help him get going.”

Saunders won’t have to change his preparation because he prepares each day as if he’s going to be in the lineup.

“Before I come to the park,” he said, “I prepare like I’m going to play. Even if I’m not in there, I’ve got to prepare like I’m ready to play (in case) I get called upon.

“It’s preparation. Preparing yourself like you are in the lineup. Taking your work in the cage seriously. Taking your BP seriously.”

And producing when the opportunity arises.

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