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Saunders taking team-first attitude

Saunders taking team-first attitude

SEATTLE -- Michael Saunders said he's focused more on putting up good at-bats than his early-season batting average at this point, knowing the first will take care of the latter over the long haul.

But, yeah, after an 0-for-8 start over the first five games, the Mariners outfielder was happy to get his first two hits of the season on Sunday so that he does have a number behind his name when he comes to the plate.

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"Of course," Saunders said prior to Tuesday's home opener. "I was the last guy with an average, and I'm glad to get on that ship. It's a long year and whatever I can do to help the club win ... it's a lot of fun right now and we had a great road trip.

"It's not about one guy, it's about the team. If I come in for the seventh as a defensive replacement, then I want the ball hit to me. I want to play a part in helping the team win."

Saunders is adapting to his early role with the club. He started just two of the team's first six games and wasn't in the lineup Tuesday against the Angels as manager Lloyd McClendon went with right-handed Stefen Romero against southpaw Hector Santiago.

Even against righties, Saunders is splitting time with fellow lefty Logan Morrison. But Saunders is the team's best defensive outfielder and McClendon has inserted him in every game so far in the late innings in right field.

"I'm on pace for 162," Saunders said with a smile.

And he's doing what he can to get his timing down at the plate, where he's hit the ball hard several times without getting a positive result.

"I'm just trying to do my work in the cage, my video work, take BP serious," he said. "A good at-bat doesn't always result in a base hit. A box score sometimes tells lies. So I'm more concentrating on going up there having a good professional at-bat. Whether it's coming in for the seventh or starting a game, that's my mindset."

McClendon's substitutions have paid off so far, sometimes in uncanny fashion, as Saunders has immediately made several key catches after coming into games in late innings, including a shoe-string catch of a low-liner in the eighth on Saturday to help preserve Felix Hernandez's 3-1 win.

"The ball will find you, it always does," Saunders said. "It never fails. And it's not just me. That's how it works. We were talking about that the other day. LoMo never got one play, then I come in and I get three plays in two innings. So whether it's starting a game or a defensive replacement, I just need to make sure I'm ready."

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.

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