By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — As expected, outfielder Michael Saunders returned Friday from the disabled list and went immediately into the starting lineup after the Mariners cleared space by optioning Jesus Montero to Class AAA Tacoma.
Saunders batted seventh and played right field against Cleveland at Safeco Field. He hit .450 (9-for-20) in five games at Tacoma in his recovery from a sore right shoulder, which surfaced on a swing in a June 6 game at Tampa Bay.
“It was (a matter) of making sure my shoulder was healthy,” Saunders said. “There was a point last year that I thought was a crucial learning experience for me — coming back from the same injury.
“Mind you, it was a little worse last year. But I felt I might have come back a little bit too early before I was ready. So going down early enough, and getting five games and 20 at-bats made me trust it.”
The Mariners signaled the move was likely Wednesday when Saunders took part in batting practice prior to their 5-4 loss to Boston. Montero also cleaned out his locker following the game.
Saunders was on a .356 surge (21-for-59) prior to his injury and was batting .272 overall in 52 games with four homers and 25 RBI.
“Something I learned with rehab,” he said, “is the last 5-to-10 percent is trusting that you are healthy. It’s hard, sometimes, to really let things go the way you normally do after you’ve hurt something.
“I was able to do that without any limitations. I wouldn’t be here today unless I was ready.”
Montero, 24, hit .286 (4-for-14) in five games following his June 12 recall from Tacoma, including a two-run homer on June 17 in a 6-1 victory over San Diego.
He batted .270 in 59 games for the Rainiers prior to his recall with eight homers and 40 RBI.
First baseman Justin Smoak (strained left quadriceps muscle) and outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart (strained left hamstring) remain with Tacoma on rehab assignments.
Smoak is 6-for-27 in seven games with one homer and three RBI. Hart is 5-for-17 with one RBI in four games.
“Just trying to get them to 100 percent,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Not 80 percent. They’re getting there.”