Saunders simplifying approach at the plate

Saunders simplifying approach at the plate

Saunders simplifying approach at the plate
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Saunders knows the situation. The Mariners need offense. They need some of their young prospects to turn into productive hitters.

They need him.

Given the opportunity to become the everyday left fielder on a team desperate for punch, Saunders hit just .211 with 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 100 games last season. Now 24, the athletic 6-foot-4 Canadian is one of several youngsters who could help lead a Seattle resurgence if he becomes the player many expected to see a year ago.

"I know it's a big season for me," Saunders said. "There's no question about that. It's something I can't think about and put too much pressure on myself, but I worked hard in the offseason to get to this point. I expect a lot from myself.

"The last couple years have been disappointing for me. They were not successful. It's something I've built on. It's no longer, 'Oh, he's a rookie. He's a young guy.' No, it's time to strap it on and put together a good season. I know I've got it in me and I'm confident I can do that. That's why I worked hard this offseason to get here."

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Saunders hasn't warmed up in the Cactus League just yet. He's hitting .150 [3-for-20] with eight strikeouts after an 0-for-3 on Wednesday against the Dodgers. But he says he's working on breaking some bad habits from the past few years and going with a simpler approach that will pay off in the long run.

"I think I got away from my game plan a little bit," he said. "I've got to learn when to take that single into left when the pitcher gives it to me. Last year, I tried to hit for power more than normal and it caused me to pull off the baseball."

Saunders has been working with new hitting coach Chris Chambliss to simplify his approach.

"You work hard on things in the cage and batting practice so hopefully it takes over naturally for you in the game," Saunders said. "I had a good talk with [Chambliss] about that. He told me when I get in there to just think about punishing the baseball. See ball, hit ball, hit ball hard.

"Don't think about the little things you're tinkering with in the cage. If you're doing things right and doing enough quality repetition, it will take over naturally in the game without you even realizing it. So that's kind of the mindset right now. When games start and we get in the box, it's time to punish the baseball."

Easier said than done, of course, but Saunders feels he's on the right track.

"[Chambliss] said when you have that mentality, everything takes care of itself," Saunders said. "You're going to be ready to hit that 95-96-mph fastball. You're going to be on time. Your bat head is going to come through the zone and you're going to be squaring balls up without thinking where my hands are or am I dipping too much."

Sometimes all the preparation in the world, however, can't protect an athlete for the unexpected. Saunders went to Venezuela for Winter League ball with the idea of working on his swing, but wound up hurting his forearm in an outfield collision and being sent home.

That turned out to be a stroke of good fortune, however, when his appendix burst shortly after his return to Victoria, British Columbia.

"It caught me off guard," Saunders said. "I thought it was a stomach ache at first and four hours later I was like, 'I've got to go to the hospital.' Luckily it happened a week after I got out of Venezuela.

"I was down for a few weeks and wasn't able to swing or lift for a bit, but it happened at the right time. It happened when I was back home, during the offseason. If it was going to happen, that was the time. I had surgery and was home that night. It felt like I'd done a billion crunches for the next few days, like I'd been in the gym for a long time."

But now he's healthy and rarin' to go. Last season's behind him, he says, and it's time for both he and the team to elevate their game.

"I think you learn from failure more than success and that's something that drove everyone to really work hard over the offseason," he said. "We've got to let last year go, but take things from it into this year. We've all gone through a tough year together and here we are again in 2011 and I think we're better for it."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.