SEATTLE -- Although Mariners ace Felix Hernandez would physically be able to take the mound Sunday, he will instead start Tuesday in the series opener against the Padres, said manager Eric Wedge on Friday. Hernandez has been battling a sore lower back for about a week.

The Mariners were originally hoping the righty would be able to start Sunday's series finale against the Dodgers, but Wedge said with a day off Monday, it made more sense to wait until Tuesday. Hernandez will throw a bullpen session Saturday.

"I think we feel like he could definitely pitch on Sunday, but the fact of the matter is, he's going to have six starts either way before the [All-Star] break, so it makes more sense to take the cautious route and wait until Tuesday," Wedge said. "He wants to pitch as soon as he can, but with the fact of the matter being it's six starts either way before the four-day break, it just makes sense to give him a few more days. He feels really good."

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Hernandez started feeling soreness in his back during the third inning of his start June 1 against the White Sox. He was eventually lifted in the fifth after giving up a pair of home runs. He hasn't pitched since, but the Mariners were able to keep their rotation intact due to Thursday's off-day.

Hector Noesi started a day earlier than scheduled on Wednesday, but Friday, Saturday and Sunday's probable starters (Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan) will all be going off the normal five-day rotation.

Saunders credits adjustments for turnaround

SEATTLE -- In parts of three seasons at the Major League level, Michael Saunders has been anything but consistent for the Mariners at the plate. After an offseason of extensive offensive work, the results weren't showing up early in the 2012 campaign.

But after a torrid nine-game road trip in which the center fielder went 19-for-39 (.487) with nine runs, five doubles, two home runs and five RBIs, Saunders raised his average from .224 to .277 entering Friday's contest against the Dodgers. But if you ask Saunders, he'll tell you that not much has changed from Opening Day.

"I think you just got to ... understand that you're going to have your stretches where you're 0-for-10, 0-for-15, and you're also going to have these stretches where you're going to pick up multiple-hit nights every night," he said. "I think you've just got to stay stable. If you get too high, this game will humble you real quick, and if you get too low, you continue to dig yourself deeper and deeper into a hole that you just can't get out of. I've experienced that the last few years."

"Even when the results weren't there for him, it wasn't really an indication of his at-bats, because I feel like he's put up good at-bats most of the year, and very consistently," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's been a tough out and he goes up there and gives himself a chance with each AB. Really pleased for him and with him.

"I think with Michael, yeah he's made a few adjustments, but I think the biggest separator for him is the mental part of the game. So really pleased and happy for him."

Saunders, who hired a personal hitting coach in the offseason, also credits his work on the mental aspect of the game as the biggest change. Reminding himself that there is always another game the next day has helped Saunders stay steady, whether successful or not.

It also helps to have a support system, he said. After misjudging a line drive that bounced off his face June 1 against the White Sox that led to three unearned runs and a Mariners loss, a call from his wife helped to put things in perspective.

"There's been many quotes that this game's played more between the ears than it is physical," Saunders said. "I think it's just a mindset. You've got to have a short memory in this game. Obviously it's good to ride your hot streaks, but when you do go bad, and it does happen -- it happens to the best players to play this game -- you've got to have a short memory and know you get to come back here the next night."

Rare off-days are welcome sights

SEATTLE -- After the series-opener in Japan, the travels didn't stop for the Mariners. Entering Friday's contest with the Dodgers at Safeco Field, Seattle had played the most road games in the Major Leagues (37).

With all that travel, off-days become even more important, said manager Eric Wedge.

"A true day off in general is a big deal to begin with," Wedge said, "but when you've had the travel that we've had, when you've been on the road as much as we've had, all the more."

The Mariners had a day off Thursday, but because of travel, they didn't return to Seattle until late Wednesday night. Wedge said having a day off on Monday as well is nice for the players, because there is no travel involved. The club's next day off after that is June 21.

Worth noting

• Former Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez threw out Friday's ceremonial first pitch as part of the team's 35th anniversary. Martinez hit .312 with 309 home runs in 18 seasons, all with Seattle.

• Third baseman Kyle Seager has an American League-leading 22 two-out RBIs. He trails Major League leader Andre Ethier, who has tallied 25.

• The Mariners hosted the Dodgers on Friday for the first time since July 7-9, 2000. Seattle holds a 12-10 lead in the all-time series.