CLEVELAND -- After starting 15 straight games since returning from his sprained shoulder, Michael Saunders was given the day off Saturday by Mariners manager Eric Wedge. And the break appears much needed as Saunders has struggled at the plate this road trip.
The 26-year-old center fielder has gone 2-for-19 in the last four games, dropping his average from .286 to .247, and looking different at the plate than earlier in the season.
"It's time," Wedge said. "The guy brings so much energy to our lineup at the top of the order. It's the real deal. So this is a good day off for him.
"I don't think [he's pressing]. He's just a little worn down. You play him that much and that's what it is. Coming off not playing for a while and then coming back and playing the way he's played, I threw him right up there in the middle of it, and he's done great. But this is a good day off for him."
Saunders missed 17 games from April 11-28 with his sprained shoulder after crashing into the right-field wall at Safeco. With Franklin Gutierrez on the disabled list now, Saunders has played center field every day since his return, and the Mariners have gone 9-6 in that stretch.
Veteran Endy Chavez got the start in center and took over the leadoff spot Saturday.
Injury-plagued Guti likely to play right field
CLEVELAND -- Franklin Gutierrez was the designated hitter on Friday for the second straight game during his rehab stint at Triple-A Tacoma, but the Mariners want him to see time in right field while he's there, so they have options when he returns from a strained hamstring.
Gutierrez is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as he's ready, but manager Eric Wedge said he may change the way he handles the injury-plagued outfielder, and one of those changes will be getting him ready for more than just his normal center-field duties.
"We want him to play some right field as well as center for a couple reasons," Wedge said. "One, I think it's easier to stay healthy if you're playing left or right field versus center field. Two, Michael Saunders has been great in center field. And three, if he's not 100 percent, then we're better off with him in right field.
"Now if he's the Guti of old, 100 percent, then of course you want him in center field. But he just hasn't proven he can do that. So we're going to give him some time down there to work things out. We DH'd him last night just because of the weather conditions, but we want him to play both."
Saunders has played very well in center, and Wedge is clearly comfortable keeping him there. But he'd be glad to have a fully healthy Gutierrez in that role if possible.
Wedge said Saunders is the better center fielder right now "if Guti's not 100 percent. But if Guti's 100 percent, I don't think there's anybody better."
Getting Gutierrez healthy has long been the issue, however. He's now on the DL for the fifth time since 2010. He's played just 148 games since the start of the '10 season while missing 218. So Wedge wants to see something different during this rehab stint before he returns.
The Mariners have 20 days to make that decision.
"I'm going to work off him," Wedge said of a possible return date. "But like I told him, I need him not to just be able to play up here, but be able to play every day -- steal a base and do some things. Otherwise we're just going to end up back where we are right now. I want to give it some time."
Recent series wins show Wedge team's personality
CLEVELAND -- The low point for the Mariners this season was a 10-3 defeat in Houston on April 24 when Seattle lost a series to the last-place Astros and then got an earful from manager Eric Wedge in a fiery postgame speech. The team had fallen to 8-15 -- a half-game out of last place in the American League West.
Since then, Seattle has gone 12-7 heading into Saturday's game against the Indians and pulled itself into a chase for second place in the division with Oakland.
"I think this is what's more normal," Wedge said Saturday morning. "This is more the personality of the club we'd anticipated. I think settling in has been a big part of it. Even [Friday], that was a pretty good ballgame.
"We've got to do a better job with runners in scoring position and take advantage of some opportunities," he said. "But we're playing good baseball, and we're playing good teams. You look at the last six series, it's been about as real as it gets, and we still haven't totally hit our stride yet. So that's a good thing."
After going 0-5-2 in their first seven series of the season, the Mariners are 5-0-1 in their last six series.
• Right fielder Michael Morse was back in the lineup Saturday after being scratched Friday with eye irritation. Morse said he had trouble with a contact lens prior to Friday's game, with the lens getting shoved into the corner of his eye and causing him blurriness that didn't go away until Saturday morning.
• Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen has been perfect against right-handed hitters this season, with righties 0-for-34 against him going into Saturday's game.