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Saunders taking advantage of his opportunity

The Sports Xchange
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According to the script, Michael Saunders wasn't supposed to get all that much playing time this season.

Franklin Gutierrez was going to be the center fielder and the best that Saunders could hope for as a backup role.

But Gutierrez came up with a right pectoral injury, missed all of spring training, and Saunders has had the better part of two months to make a case for himself, starting 43 of the Mariners' first 48 games.

The batting average isn't much to speak of at .225, but Saunders has come up with enough big plays on defense and enough good at-bats on offense, not to mention seven steals, tied for the team lead, so that it's going to be difficult for manager Eric Wedge to take him out of the lineup when Gutierrez eventually returns.

Friday, for the first time in his career, the speedy center fielder moved into the leadoff spot in the lineup with Dustin Ackley getting the night off on what was, curiously, Dustin Ackley Bobblehead Night.

Saunders singled in the first inning and scored, then walked and stole a base in the fourth inning of what turned out to be a 6-4 loss to the Angels.

He'd never hit higher in the lineup than fifth before May 17, when he became the semi-regular No. 2 hitter.

"It's just a natural progression," Wedge said. "He's done a decent job in the two-hole. I like the way he fights through at-bats and we're just trying to stay as consistent as we can, relatively speaking of course."

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