McClendon moved Saunders to right field and had Abraham Almonte back in center -- though hitting ninth for the first time this season -- after giving him a day off Thursday. Almonte hit just .204 in 25 games in April, primarily in the leadoff role, with a .248 on-base percentage.
The 6-foot-4 Saunders isn't a classic leadoff type, but does have good speed and reached base with two singles and an RBI double against the Yankees to hike his own average to .233. After opening the season 0-for-9, Saunders has hit .294 (10-for-34) with six runs, two doubles, a triple and home run in his last 17 games, with a .368 on-base percentage in that span.
McClendon said he'll take Saunders' Thursday numbers any night in the leadoff spot, but remains uncertain if he is a long-term answer in that role.
"I'm not sure," he said. "Right now with Almonte struggling a little bit, somebody has got to hit there. He's the next guy up."
Saunders says he just keeps coming to work every day eager to fill whatever role comes his way. Though he started just 10 of the first 26 games, he came off the bench in 12 other games and is finding ways to make his presence felt.
"I just want to contribute," Saunders said. "It's not about one individual guy, it's about getting W's. I come to the park ready to play. If I'm not in there, I have to prepare for whatever I get called upon. The biggest thing for me is making sure my timing stays there, which has been my biggest hurdle. When I am in there, I understand I'm not always going to go 3-for-4. I'm just looking to help the team any way I can."
As for Almonte? The 24-year-old says he discovered from watching video that he's been pulling his head off pitches, particularly swinging left-handed, and hopes to get a fresh start after working on that in the batting cage. After leading off 23 of the first 26 games and batting second in his other start, he'll get a different look now from the No. 9 spot.
"I'm hoping that will relax him a little bit and help him get going," McClendon said.
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.