Healthy Saunders a blessing for Blue Jays

Healthy Saunders a blessing for Blue Jays

ST. PETERSBURG -- If the early results are any indication, the Blue Jays should be very thankful they never ended up trading Michael Saunders as part of a three-team deal this spring.

Saunders, who homered twice in Friday's 6-1 victory over the Rays, was nearly sent packing in a trade that would have seen veteran outfielder Jay Bruce join Toronto. The deal fell apart at the last minute, and that might have been a good thing, because Saunders is performing well and he comes at a fraction of the cost.

The 29-year-old Saunders has been an integral part of Toronto's early-season offense. He recently took over leadoff duties, and when healthy, he has been a key performer behind the strong core of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

"I'm definitely feeling good, confident, most importantly, and I'm healthy," said Saunders, who went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs against the Rays. "I think that's the biggest thing. I have my legs underneath me this year, and I'm seeing the ball well.

"Hitting in front of the guys we have right now -- JD, Bautista, Encarnacion and [Troy Tulowitzki] -- that obviously helps. One-through-nine we're going to get the ball rolling here soon and hopefully get hot."

Saunders is batting .324 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 18 games this season. He isn't exactly the prototypical leadoff hitter, but his .377 on-base percentage fits the mold and the lack of speed is hardly an issue because this is not a team that's known for its running game.

The bonus in all of this is that three of Saunders' home runs this year have come against left-handers. He has proven himself capable of an everyday role, and he said the sore hamstring that hampered him earlier in the year continues to get better by the day.

Health is something Saunders has not been able to enjoy for a long time. He missed almost all of 2015 with a left knee injury. In 2014, he was limited to 78 games because of several nagging injuries. Saunders can't be considered 100 percent this season, either, but he has been good enough to play, and the regular at-bats are doing him wonders.

"The hammy is definitely feeling a lot better," said Saunders, who enjoyed his sixth career multi-homer game. "I'm kind of grinding through it right now. The training staff is getting it better on a daily basis, and hopefully it will be back to normal here shortly."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.