Saunders looks to pass on-field spring tests

Canadian outfielder played just nine games last season

Saunders looks to pass on-field spring tests

Michael Saunders enjoyed hammering a two-out, two-run single to right in the second inning of the Blue Jays' 10-8 victory over the Pirates on Thursday, but it was what happened on the base paths immediately after that brought him even greater satisfaction.

Saunders, who missed all of 2015 after injuring his knee on a sprinkler head in Spring Training, abruptly put the brakes on after rounding first.

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Without consequence.

"It's all about passing tests," Saunders said after leaving the game. "Coming into camp, I did my rehab and part of that was simulating baserunning, simulating the game and whatever would take place in the game.

"My knee feels fantastic. It was never the surgery. It was the bone bruise that occurred afterwards, and ever since that bone bruise went away I've felt 100%."

"That will give him some confidence," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who plans to rest Saunders on Friday and play him Saturday against the Phillies.

"Michael's been out a while now and so we need to get him playing. It's like starting over for him, but he's going to be a big help for us."

Saunders has every intention of being the Blue Jays' starting left fielder this season, and realizes that he'll have to observe a strict, in-season training regimen to ensure his continued presence on the field.

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"It's more so maintenance. I'm going to have to pay a lot more attention than I have in the past," Saunders said.

"I've never had any knee problems, I just have to stay on top of things. I haven't experienced any inflammation during my rehab or my weight lifting, being out there two days in a row now and I don't expect to but I just have to make sure I stay on top of this."

And while Saunders is excited about the upcoming season and his projected role as an everyday player, he understands that it has to be a gradual process -- at least at first.

"The more at bats I get the more comfortable I'll get. I'm still going wean myself in the beginning of spring, and then look to play more consistently in the second half of spring and into the season," Saunders said.

Michael Kolligian is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.