Tales of tornadoes, Indy and a switch in outfielders with the Mariners

It’s been about two weeks, but I’m back with the Mariners today after making my annual trip to the Midwest to visit family, attempt to catch largemouth bass on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri and spend a weekend at the Indianapolis 500.

A few noteworthy memories of the trip:

• I’m not sure how much coverage the Joplin tornado received back here in the Northwest, but it was nearly a 24-hour topic on the TV stations back there. The devastation was horrendous and the losses those people suffered were heartbreaking. There are a lot of people hurting back there, and the pain is going to last a long, long time.

• A lot of people ask what the Indy 500 is like in person. That’s really not possible because you can’t explain the sights, sounds and, yes, the smells unless you’re there. That’s in addition to having race cars speed past at more than 220 mph. It’s a sensory experience you can’t get anywhere else.

• Believe it or not, I actually thought about Michael Saunders while I was fishing for bass. I caught a few, but mostly I’d swing and miss or simply not take advantage of some of the strikes. In other words, I was thinking too much and missing chances to catch a lot more fish than I did.

Speaking of Saunders, that’s pretty much the topic of the day concerning the Mariners (along with the callup of outfielder Greg Halman from Class AAA Tacoma). The M’s optioned Saunders to Tacoma after Thursday night’s game in what many felt was a long-overdue move considering his hitting struggles (.168 average with 45 strikeouts in 137 at-bats).

“It’s the right time to do this,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s still a young player. He’s had enough experience up here to understand just what it’s all about and ultimately what he needs to do to be successful. That’s why we sent him out.”

It allows Saunders to play everyday at Tacoma, something that wasn’t happening with the Mariners after the arrival of Carlos Peguero, and get his hitting issues – both mechanical and mental, Wedge said – straightened out.

A lot of people expected the Mariners to call up Mike Carp, who’s been on a tear at Tacoma. Halman has spent most of the season on the disabled list because of a broken hand and has played only five games since coming off the disabled list.

So, why Halman? Mainly because he can play center field, a position the Mariners need coverage on days Franklin Gutierrez doesn’t play.

“He’ll have an opportunity to play some left field from time to time,” Wedge said. “We might use him late in games, whether it be in the outfield or on the basepaths.”

A few other notes before tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays:

• First-base coach Mike Brumley, who handles outfield play, stood at home plate and hit dozens of balls into the left-field corner, the left-center gap and to the warning track during early work this afternoon with Halman, Peguero and Chris Gimenez.

They worked primarily on drop-steps and routes, and Halman got several balls into the corner, which can be a tricky place for a left fielder in this ballpark.

Brumley said Jack Cust also will get some work out there as the Mariners prepare for their interleague road series late this month against the Nationals and Marlins (those games against the Marlins will be at Safeco Field, but the M’s will be the visiting team because of a stadium schedule conflict at Florida).

• How does the arrival of Halman affect Mike Wilson’s role? “We’ll see how it plays out,” Wedge said. “We’re going to face quite a few righties coming up, we’ll have some lefties as well. I’d still like to get Mike in there against lefties. We’ll see.”

And now, tonight’s lineups:

Johnny Damon, DH
Ben Zobrist, second base
Evan Longoria, third base
Matt Joyce, right field
B.J. Upton, center field
Sean Rodriguez, shortstop
Felipe Lopez, first base
John Jaso, catcher
Justin Ruggiano, left field

Starting pitcher: Right-hander Andy Sonnanstine (0-1, 4.39)

Ichiro Suzuki, right field
Brendan Ryan, shortstop
Justin Smoak, first base
Jack Cust, DH
Franklin Gutierrez, center field
Adam Kennedy, second base
Miguel Olivo, catcher
Chone Figgins, third base
Carlos Peguero, left field

Starting pitcher: Left-hander Jason Vargas (3-3, 4.50

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