HOU@SEA: M. Saunders exits after crashing into wall

ARLINGTON -- Outfielder Michael Saunders took a day off from batting practice on Sunday to rest his recuperating right shoulder, but said he continues to feel improvement as he works toward returning from the disabled list later this month.

Saunders sprained the shoulder when he crashed into the Safeco Field wall on April 10. He's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Friday, but that's probably a difficult goal given he's yet to begin throwing and only has taken swings the past two days while accompanying the team on its road trip to Texas.

Saunders kept both hands on the bat while swinging on Friday on Saturday in order to lessen the strain, but said things went fine.

"I've been doing a lot of work the last little while here, so today I'm getting a rest day just to recuperate and I'll get back at it tomorrow," Saunders said Sunday. "There's still some inflammation in there, so we're waiting for that to die down. But it's encouraging that I'm able to swing so soon after it happened."

The biggest test likely will be throwing, which he hasn't tried yet.

"That'll be the last thing to come," Saunders said. "Hopefully we can get the swinging down to a point where it's not a problem anymore. And if throwing is a bit of an issue, hopefully I can still get out there and hit my [cutoff man] and that kind of deal.

"I want everything to be good, obviously, but I'm more concentrated right now on making sure my swing is feeling good. I think throwing will come, but it's one of those things where we'll just have to wait and see."

The club has gone 3-6 since Saunders' injury, and he's itching to be able to help.

"Obviously I want to be back as soon as possible," Saunders said. "But I have to listen to my shoulder and make sure it's ready to go. It's a long year. That being said, I'm working hard to get back as soon as I can."

Offense has experienced drop-off since Morse's injury

TEX@SEA: Morse leaves game after being hit in seventh

ARLINGTON -- While much of the Mariners offensive woes in the early season have been attributed to struggling youngsters, it's not hard to see how things have changed since Michael Morse broke the little finger on his right hand nine days ago.

After dropping Sunday's series finale, 11-3, to the Rangers, the Mariners have scored 16 runs in the nine games since Morse's injury, an average of 1.78 per game. In the 10 games he played prior to his injury, they averaged 4.2 runs.

The big slugger was hitting .293 with six home runs and nine RBIs in those 10 games before taking a 95-mph fastball off his hand. He then sat out two games plus an off-day, but has gone 3-for-24 (.125) with no home runs and one RBI in six games since, as his average sits now at .231 after a 1-for-4 day with a double on Sunday.

"No excuses. No excuses. It's all me," Morse said prior to Sunday's game. "I feel good. I feel all right. I just need to start hitting."

Manager Eric Wedge acknowledged the injury has impacted Morse, though he doesn't think the finger itself is a problem now.

"I think his timing has been a little bit off," Wedge said. "I don't think he's too far away though. Obviously that bump in the road has affected him. I don't think the finger is too much of an issue, but the timing has been a real thing. But, hey, it's not supposed to be that easy. When you lose three to four days in baseball, it's a long time. But he'll get it back."

The Mariners are hunting for answers after their expected offseason improvement hasn't translated into regular-season success yet at the plate. The club is last in the American League in scoring, batting average and slugging percentage.

"We just need to start hitting. There's nothing really more than that," Morse said. "Hitting can be contagious. It's just plain and simple. In order to win, you've got to hit and score runs."

Gutierrez gets another breather on Sunday

DET@SEA: Gutierrez makes a running catch in the 11th

ARLINGTON -- Franklin Gutierrez was out of the lineup Sunday after playing on Saturday, as Mariners manager Eric Wedge continues trying to work the injury-plagued center fielder through some leg issues that have bothered him since Spring Training.

Gutierrez has started just three of the last nine games, while Endy Chavez has received the bulk of the time in center field.

"It's just a process of trying to help him get over the hump," Wedge said. "If you play him again today, it's going to be another setback. If you give him today off, hopefully we can start pulling back-to-back days with him. That would be the plan. But for him to get better, that's just what we have to do."

Wedge acknowledged that a stint on the disabled list is a possibility at some point if the situation doesn't improve.

"Down the road, if this keeps up it is," he said. "We're trying to avoid that. But if this keeps up, that will be our only other option."

With Michael Saunders eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday, the Mariners will have an extra outfielder whenever he's ready to play. But Wedge wasn't ready to say that Saunders might trade places with Gutierrez at that point, particularly with no assurance when exactly Saunders will be ready.

"I don't want to speculate," Wedge said. "I'm still hoping we're in the process of getting [Gutierrez] over the hump. In regard to Saunders coming back, that's still a long way off for me. So many things can happen between now and then."

Worth noting

• After going 0-for-20 in Triple-A Tacoma's first homestand, top Mariners catching prospect Mike Zunino was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs on Saturday as the Rainiers won, 13-4, at Salt Lake City. Zunino is hitting .235 with five home runs and 21 RBIs.

• Outfielder Eric Thames continued his hot hitting for Tacoma by going 2-for-4 with a home run. He's batting .348 and has homered in four of his last five games.

• Top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker went six innings with one hit, one run, four walks and six strikeouts for Double-A Jackson on Saturday, though he got a no-decision in a 4-3 loss to Pensacola. Walker's record is 1-2 with a 1.64 ERA in four starts.

• When the Mariners were shut out Friday and Saturday, it marked the 32nd time in club history they've endured back-to-back blankings. They have never been shut out three straight times.