Saunders' role changes with Gutierrez's return

Saunders' role changes with Gutierrez's return

Saunders' role changes with Gutierrez's return
MINNEAPOLIS -- With center fielder Franklin Gutierrez back with the Mariners on Monday, Michael Saunders knows his role will change for the remainder of the season after manning that position most of the season's first 128 games. But Saunders is fine with playing wherever needed, once he gets himself healthy again after missing a third straight game with a sore groin muscle.

Saunders was sidelined again Monday after hurting the groin in a ninth-inning outfield collision with Eric Thames on Friday, but says he's close to returning.

"I went out and ran today and did some exercises in the gym," the 25-year-old outfielder said. "It's a lot stronger. At different movements, I'll still feel it a little, but it's already a lot better than even yesterday. So, I'm definitely making strides in the right direction and I'm confident I'll be back in this series."

Manager Eric Wedge said Saunders would definitely play one of the corner outfield positions when Gutierrez is in the lineup, which figures to be pretty much every day if he remains healthy after returning from a concussion.

"He'll play center when Guti doesn't, otherwise I'm comfortable with Michael in left or right, depending on who else is out there," Wedge said.

And that's fine with Saunders, who began the spring in competition for the left field job before moving to center when Gutierrez tore his pectoral muscle and missed several months and then shifted back over again when Gutierrez got hit in the head on June 28.

"I'm comfortable in either corner," said Saunders. "One of the beauties of playing center field, if you can play center, you can play the other ones. It's a different trajectory off the bat, obviously. But we legitimately can field three center fielders out there at one time."

Saunders said he's watched and learned from Gutierrez in the last few Spring Trainings and welcomes his return.

"What he can do for the club, not just defensively, but offensively, as well, he's a weapon and we're real glad to have him back," said Saunders. "He's going to do nothing but help this ballclub."