With Franklin Gutierrez getting healthy and finding his game during a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, the starting center field job and leadoff role that Saunders seemed to have locked up is now on shaky ground.
Saunders has gone 2-for-23 in his past six games while seeing his season batting average fall from .278 to .235. He's hitting .226 in the month of May after going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts Tuesday in the Mariners' 12-0 loss to the Angels.
Just one week earlier, Saunders was such a difference-maker atop the Mariners' batting order that Gutierrez's rehab stint was including time in right field. The theory was that the left-handed-hitting Saunders had solidified himself as an everyday leadoff man and center fielder, leaving the right-handed Gutierrez to serve as a fourth outfielder upon his return.
But Saunders has really fallen on hard times recently, and the Mariners' offense has lost some of the consistency it displayed during the first two months of May. Saunders has gone six consecutive games without an RBI or a run, and he has 10 strikeouts in that span.
Gutierrez, who struggled with leg problems for most of April, could come off the disabled list any day now. He hit .150 in his first five games in Tacoma but has proven over the years that he can be a reliable everyday center fielder. If Saunders doesn't get it together, he could find himself back in a platoon situation.
Saunders did a DL stint of his own for three weeks in April, then returned from a shoulder injury and homered on his first at-bat. He eventually went 14-for-51 (.285) with 12 runs and seven RBIs in his first 2 1/2 weeks back, leading the Mariners to an 8-5 record along the way.
But things have really gone south since then, for both Saunders and the Mariners, and manager Eric Wedge is likely to start shuffling things around in search of the right combination.
NEXT: Mariners (Brandon Maurer, 2-5, 5.75) at Angels (C.J. Wilson, 3-3, 3.72)
RHP Aaron Harang, who missed his previous start due to a strained back, returned to action Tuesday but he wasn't sharp. He gave up seven runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings in the Mariners' 12-0 loss to the Angels. He is now 0-3 in five career starts against the Angels.
3B Kyle Seager was the only American League player with a minimum of 90 plate appearances not to ground into a double play this season going into Tuesday's game against the Angels. However, in his second at-bat of Tuesday's game, he hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
1B Justin Smoak has reached base safely in 15 consecutive starts dating back to April 29. During that stretch, he raised his on-base percentage from .311 to .363. He went 0-for-3 with a walk Tuesday.
LF Raul Ibanez has hit six home runs in his past eight games, raising his season total to eight, which projects to 29 for the season. Ibanez has hit as many as 29 homers in a season two times in his career (2009 with Philadelphia, 2006 with Seattle).
RHP Brandon Maurer will make his ninth start of the season Wednesday when he faces the Angels. Maurer, who never pitched above Double-A ball before this season, has two career major league victories—one of them coming against the Angels on April 25, when he held them scoreless for 6 1/3 innings. He is 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA.
"You can't keep putting this kind of heat on the bullpen. You want to give everybody ample opportunity, but having said that, we can't keep doing what we're doing and expect to compete."—Manager Eric Wedge, after RHP Aaron Harang was knocked out in the fourth inning of the Mariners' 12-0 loss to the Angels.
RHP Aaron Harang (strained back) was scratched from his May 16 start. He started May 21.
CF Franklin Gutierrez (torn right hamstring) went on the 15-day disabled list April 23. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on May 16.
RHP Josh Kinney (stress reaction in left rib area) was shut down March 10, and he hadn't resumed throwing through late March. He went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on May 17.
RHP Stephen Pryor (torn right lat muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list April 15, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 17.
RHP Felix Hernandez
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Brandon Maurer
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen (closer)
LHP Charlie Furbush
LHP Oliver Perez
RHP Carter Capps
RHP Yoervis Medina
LHP Lucas Luetge
RHP Danny Farquhar
1B Justin Smoak
2B Dustin Ackley
SS Brendan Ryan
3B Kyle Seager
DH Kendrys Morales
INF Robert Andino
LF Michael Morse
CF Michael Saunders
RF Raul Ibanez
OF Jason Bay
OF Endy Chavez