SEATTLE -- Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders returned to the lineup Friday as the Mariners opened a three-game series with the A's, and manager Eric Wedge is hoping he gets to see the two athletic outfielders together for much of the remaining 24 games. Saunders had missed 11 of the previous 12 starts with a strained right groin muscle, with his previous return aborted when he felt he felt the leg tighten up and was pulled after just four innings last Friday. Gutierrez sat out Wednesday's game after feeling tenderness in his own groin muscle after making a diving catch in the outfield on Tuesday against the Red Sox.
Gutierrez has played just 21 games this season due to a strained pectoral muscle and then a concussion, while Saunders had his recent difficulties after colliding with right fielder Eric Thames chasing down a ball in the gap on Aug. 24 in Chicago. "I'm looking forward to seeing both of them play at the same time," Wedge said of the alignment he's had but 10 times this season. "I've talked to them and they both feel good, so let's go." Saunders ran the bases hard and pushed his leg hard in tests on Wednesday, then took advantage of Thursday's off-day to get a little extra rest before his return. "It's been a while," the 25-year-old Canadian said. "I've been really anxious to play and I just want to be out there helping the club. I thought I was ready last time and I guess I rushed back too soon. So we took extra precautions this time." Saunders was on a hot streak prior to his injury, hitting four home runs in six games and batting .357 (10-for-28) over his last 10 games. "I was playing well and feeling good in the box right before I got injured, so I'm looking to pick up where I left off," he said. "Everybody in the clubhouse wants to finish strong on a personal note. But the main thing is, as a team, that we try to win out here. This is a big series with Oakland. We're playing great baseball and looking to continue to do that. We want to finish on a high note." Gutierrez will play center field when he's in the lineup. Saunders, who filled in very well in center when Gutierrez was out, was in left field on Friday, but also will play some right field in the final weeks. Wedge likes the idea of the two side by side. "We've only seen that for just a few short moments this year," said Wedge. "But obviously they're both so good, we've essentially got two center fielders out there, which is nice."