M. Saunders' return in sight, with rehab stint likely

M. Saunders' return in sight, with rehab stint likely

HOUSTON -- Outfielder Michael Saunders will most likely go out on a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma this weekend before rejoining the Mariners, manager Eric Wedge said Wednesday.

Saunders, who sprained his right shoulder crashing into the Safeco Field wall April 11, is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Friday. Wedge indicated that Saunders was close to returning but would need a few games to get ready.

The Mariners could definitely use the athletic 26-year-old, as he will move into the center-field role as soon as he returns. Endy Chavez is filling that role now, with Franklin Gutierrez also on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.

"Saunders definitely is headed in the right direction," Wedge said Wednesday. "He had a real good day today playing catch. We'll go home tomorrow and let the doctors look at him again and potentially send him out as early as Friday. We want him to play for a couple days and hopefully get him back, whether it be this weekend or it could be as late as Monday."

As much as the Mariners need Saunders, they want him to get his timing back in Tacoma without rushing him.

"I think he needs to play for a couple days," Wedge said. "He might DH the first day or two, but I do need to get him in the field at least one day, because when he comes back, he's going to be playing center field.

"We've definitely missed him. He's a big part of this club. If you look at what he's ended up being here, there's a level of toughness he brings, a level of leadership for our younger kids. And being a complete player, his skill set is a big difference-maker for us, especially with Gutierrez out."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.