The Mariners were forced to make a roster move Friday when a magnetic-resonance image test revealed Michael Saunders suffered a “Grade 2” strain of his left oblique muscle on a check swing in the defeat Thursday night against the Twins.
Saunders was played on the 15-day disabled list and first baseman Justin Smoak was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma.
“Obviously, it’s extremely frustrating for me,” said a visibly upset Saunders. “That being said, I guess it’s something I have to deal with and do my best to get back in there as soon as possible.”
Saunders wasn’t sure what happened.
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“It felt like a muscle cramp at the time,” he said. “I didn’t know the extent of the injury. I’ve never dealt with an oblique issue before. I didn’t really know what to expect. Movement-wise, I feel pretty good. If I do certain things, I can feel it. But it feels like a muscle cramp more than anything, not a sharp pain, which I’ll take as a good sign.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon wouldn’t put a timetable on Saunders’ return. But he said, “It’s going to be a while” before he’d be back.
Smoak was the easy choice for McClendon. He can play first base, giving Logan Morrison a break, and he’s also a switch hitter. Smoak had started to heat up for the Rainiers, hitting .325 (13 for 40) with a double and two home runs in his past 10 games.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he can give us a little lift.”
How will he handle the playing time with Morrison, Smoak and Corey Hart?
“Just like we did at the start of the year, we are going to rotate all three of them,” McClendon said. “Quite frankly, it’s kind of nice having all three of them back. It’s what we opened the season with. Hopefully they can be productive and we can get on a roll.”
Smoak went on the disabled list June 11 with a strained left quad, but had battled the injury for over a month. After coming off the disabled list July 4, he was optioned to Tacoma to continue to get at-bats.
Smoak admitted that playing through the leg issues affected him at the plate.
“I tried to play through some things and I think I started overcompensating and using my upper body more,” he said. “No excuses. It was part of it. I’m just trying to get back to where I was the first month of the year.”
• Tom Wilhelmsen won’t be available to pitch Saturday after making a spot start Thursday. But he might be making starts next season. McClendon said earlier this week he liked Wilhelmsen’s potential as a starter. It’s something they will address in the offseason. “I think it would be awfully hard to build him this year, but certainly going into spring training, I think it’s something we’ll probably entertain,” McClendon said. “Why not? He’s 94-97 with real good sink. He’s got a cutter, curveball, slider and a changeup. He’s a power guy. He’s got a power arm and he’s flourished in the long role. He’s matured enough to handle it.”
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