Smoak returns to Mariners; Saunders to DL

SEATTLE — First baseman Justin Smoak returned to the Mariners on Friday after a recent surge at Triple-A Tacoma that he attributed to renewed strength in his legs after battling a strained left quadriceps muscle.

“I think it was (a matter of) finally getting my legs under me,” said Smoak, who went 10-for-19 with two homers and eight RBI in his last four games for the Rainiers. “I went a while there without feeling much in my legs. The last five, six, seven days, the legs started to get there. I’ve felt a lot better.”

The Mariners recalled Smoak prior to their series opener against Oakland at Safeco Field after placing outfielder Michael Saunders on the 15-day disabled list because a strained left oblique muscle. Saunders suffered the injury Thursday on a check swing in the eighth inning of a 4-2 loss to Minnesota. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam revealed a grade-2 strain.

“It’s extremely frustrating for me,” Saunders said. “We were expecting from the way I went through some tests, and my pain tolerance, for it to be a grade-1 (strain). I was disappointed to hear it come back as a grade-2.”

A grade-2 strain means the muscle is partially torn but still intact. The typical recovery period is six to eight weeks.

“I don’t want to speculate,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but it’s going to be a while.”

Saunders is batting .276 with six homers and 28 RBI in 65 games. He missed nearly three weeks last month because of a sore right shoulder.

“It’s something I’m going to have to deal with,” he said, “and do my best to get back in there as soon as possible . … Movement-wise, I feel pretty good. If I do certain things, I can feel it.

“But it feels more like a muscle cramp than a sharp pain, which I’ll take as a good sign.”

Smoak went right into the starting lineup against the A’s. He was batting .208 with seven homers and 29 RBI in 63 games before his quadriceps injury forced him to the disabled list on June 11.

“He’s swinging the bat well,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, he can give us a little lift from an offensive standpoint. And, obviously, his glove work around first base is a little smoother than LoMo (Logan Morrison).”

Morrison served as the designated hitter on Friday.

The Mariners sent Smoak to Tacoma on June 18 for a rehab assignment. He was activated July 4 from the disabled list and optioned to the Rainiers. He was hitting just .200 (11-for-55) through 15 games before his recent surge.

“I tried to play through (the injury) a little bit,” Smoak said. “But, now, my legs feel great. I’ve been scoring on doubles from first base. I’m maybe a little quicker than I was. We’ll see.”

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