Sports

M's rookie thankful for shot with big club

When the Seattle Mariners wind up the season, be sure to look for a young man on the MV Coho ferry going to Victoria, as it might be outfielder Michael Saunders going home.

It's been quite a year for the 6-foot 4-inch, left-handed hitter. He's been nervous, excited, anxious and every other emotion possible for a 22-year-old who started the season in Tacoma.

Saunders, who played for the Victoria Mariners youth baseball club but never made it to Port Angeles, was drafted by the M's in 2004, an 11th round selection.

He played for Tallahassee Community College in 2004 and for Team Canada in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics after beginning his pro career in Everett in 2005. He played for Wisconsin, High Desert and West Tennessee in 2007 and then was dispatched to Tacoma in June 2008.

He was called up to the major league club in July to take over left field and had no idea that he would be playing for the big club when the season started. He had hopes of being called up in September, but when Endy Chavez went down and saw a parade of left fielders come and go, Saunders had an idea he might get a chance.

His locker in the clubhouse is between Franklin Gutierrez and Russell Branyan, so he's getting some positive advice from a couple of veterans.

When called up, a player usually has to go through the stress of finding housing, getting transportation and so on, but he was sharing an apartment in Tacoma with a fellow Rainier so kept the apartment and commutes from Tacoma to Seattle.

The difference in hitting AAA and major league? "Pitchers don't make as many mistakes in the big leagues, so it's much, much tougher," Saunders said.

After a few at bats, scouts around the league found a hole in his swing and he was fed a steady diet of inside breaking balls. "They were pitching me hard inside and soft away, but I'm getting used to the pattern," he laughed.

Batting ninth in the order, ahead of Ichiro, Saunders has bunted his way on first on a number of occasions and has some good speed.

Outfield play? Not much difference except more fans and more media to deal with.

Mariner coaches are working with the young man to keep him consistent. He has good range in the outfield and a good arm. He will hit a lot of singles and doubles and can run the bases.

Will he be a power guy? Maybe. Chavez expects to return next season, but Saunders will have a chance to make the club in spring training.



Griffey goodbye?

One of the big questions for the Mariners at the end of the season will be what to do with Ken Griffey Jr. His surgically-repaired knee was hurting at the end of August and early this month and he was out for several games.

He had surgery last October but the left knee has acted up. He has not been the designated hitter the Mariners thought he would be. Yes, he's been great in the clubhouse, guiding youthful players, and has been credited with bringing Ichiro Suzuki back with his teammates and having fun.

As of Sept. 4, Griffey was hitting just .221 with 14 homers and only 43 runs batted in. He has not been the run producer, the guy who can hit key singles and doubles with men in scoring position.

He has been working on a yearly contract worth $2 million with incentives. He needs 65 or so at bats the rest of the way to get a $250,000 bonus and the team needs to draw 140,000 fans in the last 12 games to reach two million and trigger another bonus of $300,000.

Griffey hasn't speculated, but I know he believes he can play another season at age 40 and he's like to do it as a Mariner. I think he would stay for the same money and incentives and might have a better year next season if his knee can hold up. In my opinion, he hits better when he plays in the outfield on a regular basis.

In the meantime, the Yankees visit this weekend, with Oakland and Texas the last week of the season, so you'll see some good baseball at Safeco the rest of the way.

Reach Scooter Chapman at scooter@olypen.com.

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