Saunders' success vs. lefties a positive sign
Clutch hits help outfielder ditch struggles against southpaws
SEATTLE -- Michael Saunders two-run homer off Jon Lester on Saturday had significant short-term benefits -- it broke up a no-hitter and gave the Mariners the lead -- but it was also a positive long-term sign.
Saunders, a left-handed hitter, entered Sunday's game 6-for-36 (.167) facing left-handers and 30-for-115 (.261) against righties, and his bomb off Lester was just his second homer against a southpaw (he has eight total).
Manager Don Wakamatsu stressed the importance of having Saunders face lefties more often, and he got another chance Sunday against Boston reliever Hideki Okajima, when he came up big again with a two-run, go-ahead single in the eighth. The Mariners ended up winning, 4-2.
"I think you see a lot of [left-handed hitters], especially young players early in their career, where they get protected to a point that maybe it does affect them long term," Wakamatsu said before Sunday's game. "Thats something where we want to build his confidence, and a game last night off a pitcher like Lester, youd sure think that would help."
And Saunders' confidence kept rising Sunday, when he left Safeco Field the hero for the second day in a row.
"Last year, I was looking at the name on the back more than just another pitcher," Saunders said. "I told myself this year I wasn't going to put any pressure on myself, just be confident in my abilities. I've had no problems with lefties in the Minor Leagues, so the more I see them, hopefully I wont have much trouble up here either."
Mariners still buzzing about Wilson's squeeze
SEATTLE -- Jack Wilson's successful squeeze bunt in the eighth inning provided a run that turned out to be unnecessary in the Mariners' 5-1 win against the Red Sox on Saturday, but it was a good example of a gutsy call backed up by sharp execution.
With Milton Bradley at third, one out and Jon Lester on the mound, manager Don Wakamatsu called for the squeeze play, but he waited for a 1-1 count because Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell had made a visit to the mound before the at-bat.
"With a base open, you almost know they said, 'Throw the ball up, especially if you see any movement [at third base],'" Wakamatsu said. "We decided to do it a little deeper in the count, and it was up. That was one of the more impressive squeezes I've ever been associated with."
Lester fired a 93-mph fastball outside and at Wilson's eye-level, but he still got bat on ball as Bradley came streaking toward the plate. Bradley scored without trouble to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.
"The good thing about a squeeze is there is nothing to think about, you just have to touch the ball and put it in play or foul it off," Wilson said. "The only thing you can't do is not make contact."
As simple as that sounds, a botched attempt cost the Mariners a win this season. On April 30, Eric Byrnes pulled his bat back on a squeeze play in the 11th inning and Ichiro Suzuki was caught stealing at the plate. Seattle lost, 2-0, in 12 innings, spoiling Cliff Lee's season debut.
Saturday's attempt was almost foiled as well, as third-base coach Lee Tinsley's signal to Bradley was delayed because Boston's Adrian Beltre was too close.
"[Tinsley] told me right before Lester went into his windup," Bradley said. "I heard him say something, and I was like 'What?' And he said, 'He's bunting.' So I started down the line. The pitch was up, and when he got it down I was like, 'Great.' That was a tough pitch."
Branyan better, but not quite ready yet
SEATTLE -- Mariners designated hitter Russell Branyan's stiff back was feeling better after a running session Saturday, but manager Don Wakamatsu isn't ready to declare him ready to play just yet.
"We have to be real careful in making sure we don't rush him back," Wakamatsu said. "We're looking at the possibility of one of the games in Chicago [this week] at the earliest, just because we need to have him hit also and see how he responds to that. He's feeling a lot better."
Branyan has been out since July 19, when his back stiffened up as he ran to first base. Wakamatsu said placing Branyan on the disabled list retroactively shouldn't be necessary unless there's a setback in his recovery.
Designated hitter Mike Sweeney, on the disabled list with lower back inflammation since June 3, has gone 8-for-25 with three doubles in six rehab starts at Triple-A Tacoma. Wakamatsu said he won't bring Sweeney up until he's completely healthy. "With the roster right now, we're going to have to make some moves to allow him to come back up, but he's doing everything he can and feeling good," Wakamatsu said.
Mike McCall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.