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Saunders encouraged after strong start to spring

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If postgame quotes are any indication, Joe Saunders is ready for the season. Seattle's veteran southpaw made his first start of Spring Training on Sunday, and afterward, he responded to an innocent question about whether he's taken a step forward with an All-Star-level quip.

"I don't know if it's a step forward," said Saunders after his two-inning outing. "It's just a step."

Indeed, Saunders did plenty of things right Sunday, but he knows it won't tell him much about his season. The left-hander worked two scoreless innings and allowed just one hit and one walk in Seattle's 7-6 win against Texas, and he said his focus was on throwing strikes and working fast.

"We were working on the slider-cutter combination today," he said. "I threw some good ones and I threw some bad ones but they were down, so that's a positive. Negative for me was the walk. I don't like walking guys, especially left-handed hitters. Other than that, I thought I did pretty well."

Saunders gave up one hard-hit ball on Sunday, but that shot travelled harmlessly foul to right field. The 31-year-old played for two teams last season -- Arizona and Baltimore -- and Seattle will be the fourth team he's played for in the big leagues. Saunders worked seamlessly with catcher Jesus Montero in Sunday's game, and he said he doesn't expect a difficult transition to a new team.

"It's really not as hard as people might think it is," said Saunders of working with a new catcher. "It's nice when people have seen me and I've seen them, and I kind of know what they like and they know what I like. But it's pretty easy, especially in Spring Training, to get on the same page for the season. I thought Monty was great back there. I didn't shake him off once. Working quick and getting after it."

The Mariners staked Saunders to an early four-run lead on Sunday, easing his comfort level. Saunders, a former Angel, went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven second-half starts for the Orioles last season, and he managed to pitch well in both the Wild Card game and the American League Divisional Series.

Now, with Seattle, he's hoping to help spur a similar renaissance for the Mariners. Saunders said he feels stronger than he has in the past and that he hopes it carries over to the season.

"Every offseason, you try to do something different to prepare," he said. "Try to get in earlier, keep working out strong. I was doing a lot of shoulder program stuff to keep my shoulder strong, and I feel really strong and really healthy. I'm pretty pleased with where my arm is right now."

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