DETROIT -- It's been a frustrating season for Michael Saunders, but the Mariners outfielder found encouragement with four extra-base hits in his past two games going into Thursday's series finale with the Tigers.
Saunders had a pair of RBI doubles in Wednesday's 8-0 win after hitting a double and triple the night before. He's the first Mariner with two or more extra base hits in back-to-back games since Kyle Seager on May 29-30 in Texas.
Saunders said he made a minor adjustment in his hand placement several days ago, starting them a little farther back and up in order to simplify his approach to the ball, and is seeing dividends.
"It was just a feel when I'm at the plate, getting pitches to hit and fouling them off or fileting them to left field. It's something I wasn't doing last year," he said. "I feel I made a stride forward last year and have basically made a stride backward this year. It's still very brief, but I've noticed a difference with this adjustment and am looking forward to keep getting out there and continue working on it."
Saunders hit .247 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs last year and was expected to play an integral part in this year's efforts, but has seen his playing time diminish in recent weeks while batting .237 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs.
The sporadic playing time hasn't helped, but he understands it.
"It's not easy. I'm not going to lie," said the 26-year-old. "But it's kind of the situation we're in right now with the outfielders we have. By no means have I earned an everyday spot out there at this point. But in order for me to get back on track, when I do get the opportunity, I need to make sure I'm ready. And it starts with preparation in the cage, BP and days I'm not in there, being ready to go in the seventh or eighth or whatever it may be.
"Other than that, I have to continue to work hard. This was an obstacle for me, with my hand placement, and what I've done over the last couple days, it's minimal, yet it's encouraging. This is something I think will help me stay more consistent."
Manager Eric Wedge knows this has been a tough year for Saunders and likes what he's seen the last few days.
"It's just about him being in a better position and having a better feel for himself," Wedge said. "He's such a strong young man with all the tools he needs to be an all-around player. I'm glad to see he's establishing some consistency here and getting a chance to play more.
"It's been tough on him," said Wedge. "I've been trying to divvy up these at-bats as best we can and being respectful to the veterans and trying to get the young kids in there and he's taken a hit for that at certain points in time. But he's handled it very well."
Felix throws bullpen session, will start Sunday
DETROIT -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez threw a bullpen session without problems on Thursday at Comerica Park and will return to the rotation Sunday against the Angels in Anaheim.
Hernandez hasn't pitched since Sept. 2 when he strained the oblique muscle in his left side in the seventh inning of a game in Kansas City.
"Felix was back to being Felix today," pitching coach Carl Willis said after Hernandez threw 58 pitches off the bullpen mound. "He was strong, threw all of his pitches for strikes and had great command. The plan is for him to go Sunday in Anaheim."
Hernandez initially threw a bullpen Monday in Detroit in the hope of starting Wednesday against the Tigers, but the decision was made then that he needed one more workout Thursday to regain his timing.
"You can book it, Sunday," Hernandez said after completing his session.
Erasmo Ramirez will start Friday's series opener against the Angels and Joe Saunders has been slated for Saturday's game.
By starting Sunday, Hernandez would be in position to make one more start at home in the season's final home series against the A's the following weekend.
With Miller still out, Seager plays on
DETROIT -- Kyle Seager has continued struggling at the plate in recent days as the young third baseman's consecutive game streak reached 106 games with Thursday's finale against the Tigers, but the Mariners don't have a lot of options to rest him at this point.
With shortstop Brad Miller sidelined by a sore hamstring, the Mariners don't have a backup third baseman available. Carlos Triunfel would be the backup third baseman, but he's starting at shortstop in place of Miller.
Miller hasn't been available since injuring his left leg Saturday in St. Louis.
"He's doing good," manager Eric Wedge said Thursday. "He's coming along quicker than maybe we thought. We'll probably push him a little more tomorrow. He won't be ready to be back in there tomorrow, but we'll push him a little more."
Meanwhile, Seager has gone 2-for-40 (.050) over his last 11 games as his average has dropped to .267 going into Thursday's game. His 106 consecutive game streak is the longest in club history for a third baseman.
"He's made it very clear he wants to push all the way through this, but we'll just have to wait and see," Wedge said. "I think he gets a little frustrated from time to time because he does know himself well and when he does miss a pitch that he feels he should hit, he expects more from himself. But that's part of his competitive nature. That's one of the reasons he is good. I think he'll be OK."
Wedge said opposing teams are also pitching Seager tougher as he's gained a reputation as one of the Mariners' key hitters over the past year.
"I think he has a name now and has earned a lot more respect," Wedge said. "There's that level of awareness. You just look at the [velocity]. When you see a guy come up that is more of a guy, for some reason there's a couple more miles per hour on the pitch. That' s not by accident. They're focusing a little more and there is that much more intensity. He's been consistently hitting third and is a focal point for us in our lineup. So I think they do pay a little more attention to him."
• Hisashi Iwakuma made his last road start with Wednesday's 8-0 victory over the Tigers and will finish the season with the third-lowest road ERA in club history at 2.45, behind only Felix Hernandez's 1.99 in 2009 and Randy Johnson's 2.45 in 1995.
Iwakuma finished up with 25 straight scoreless innings on the road, tying the franchise record set by Brian Holman in 1984 and Johnson in '94.
• The Mariners' shutout on Wednesday was their 12th of the season, the third most in the American League behind Cleveland (16) and Tampa Bay (15). It's tied for the fourth most in single season club history, with the record being 15 in 2003.