Mariners hoping Saunders can fill open lefty relief role

Former All-Star has made six relief appearances in his 10-year Major League career

Mariners hoping Saunders can fill open lefty relief role

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Joe Saunders never pitched in relief in his first 229 Major League appearances over a 10-year career, but the veteran lefty is prepared for a role reversal as he looks to land a job with the Mariners this spring.

Saunders signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to big-league camp and was one of 28 pitchers taking the field for the first time Saturday as the Mariners opened Spring Training.

The 33-year-old was a starter for Seattle in 2013, but returns bidding for a bullpen job on a club looking for a situational lefty.

Saunders began moving that direction at the end of last season when he worked as a reliever in Triple-A and then pitched out of the 'pen in his last six appearances of the year for the Orioles after making eight starts for Texas.

"I'm ready to go," Saunders said upon arrival in his new clubhouse. "I'm a jack of all trades these days. I can do whatever. It was kind of a breath of fresh air for me coming to the park ready to play every day instead of every fifth day last year. So I kind of enjoyed it. Do I miss starting? Yeah. Do I think I still have more in the tank? Yeah. But it's whatever they want me to do."

Saunders agreed to a Minor League deal after going 0-5 with a 6.70 ERA last season in 14 Major League games and 1-5 with a 4.35 ERA in 18 games in the Minors. He'll need to find a niche now on a Seattle club with significant pitching depth, but he's ready for the battle.

"I feel like I can be a lefty guy, a long guy out of the bullpen, a multi-inning guy, a starter," he said. "I think that brings some value."

Manager Lloyd McClendon isn't mixing any signals there, however.

"He'll come in and compete for a second lefty position out of the bullpen, not as a starter," McClendon said.

Things have changed significantly since Saunders last pitched for Seattle. The Mariners are in a remodeled Spring Training facility and the team has gone through a significant makeover on the field as well from the 71-91 club that he played on in 2013.

"That's why I'm back here," Saunders said. "I wanted to come to a contender. They've done some things here, they were close last year. Maybe I can help put them over the top."

Greg Johns, a journalist in the Seattle area for more than 20 years, began covering the Mariners for MLB.com in November 2010.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.