MLB

Saunders feels right at home with Mariners

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP)

The Seattle Mariners could use an experienced No. 2 or 3 starter in the rotation that is headlined by Felix Hernandez, and left-hander Joe Saunders hopes to be that dependable arm.

Saunders agreed on a one-year contract with the Mariners on Tuesday that could be worth up to $16.5 million over two years if he reaches all his bonuses, and he got right to work with his new teammates Wednesday.

''You look at who's the No. 1 guy, and I guess they've got a pretty decent No. 1 guy here, so everybody kind of falls in after that guy,'' an understated Saunders said of Hernandez. ''He's going to be the No. 1 and then we'll have other guys fighting for the other spots.''

Acquired by Baltimore from the Arizona Diamondbacks in August, Saunders was the starter - and winner - in the Orioles' one-game wild-card playoff against the Texas Rangers. Still, a return to Baltimore was not an option for Saunders.

Saunders says he turned down several offers to sign with the Mariners because he liked the direction the organization is headed.

''They had a lot of young arms there (with the Diamondbacks) at the time so I didn't know if it was cutting payroll or rebuilding or whatever, but it worked out for the best,'' Saunders said. ''I had a great time in Baltimore and became a free agent.''

The 31-year-old Saunders is no stranger to Safeco Field, having spent his first 4 1/2 years in the big leagues with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.

''I pitched against Seattle a lot. I remember coming to Safeco. I love the ballpark, the feel of the ballpark,'' Saunders said. ''It's just a thing about where do I want to pitch, what's the ideal location, what's the easiest for your family. It was pretty much an easy decision for me.''

Safeco Field has long been known as a pitcher's park. But the fence in left-center field has been moved in to potentially benefit Seattle's offense, and that means the pitchers have to adjust.

''I just have to be careful middle-in to these right-handed hitters,'' Saunders said. ''Other than that, just keep pitching your game. (I) put up some pretty good numbers here at Safeco, so hopefully it will continue.''

Saunders is a career 6-0 in nine starts in Seattle with a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings.

''You kind of have to adjust to the field wherever you're pitching,'' Saunders added. ''I've pitched in good ballparks like Seattle and Anaheim and pitched in bad ballparks, too, Colorado and Arizona, so it should be fun.''

Manager Eric Wedge called Saunders a ''grinder.''

''There's a certain degree of toughness there that I really like with him, and that really goes a long way with me,'' Wedge said.

Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said Saunders' experience and ability to locate his fastball and mix in off-speed pitches is a major asset.

''He can go out every fifth day and have an idea of what he's got and how he's going to have get guys out that day,'' Willis said, ''and it may be different five days from now.''

NOTES: Wedge said he was pleased to see a lot of position players already having reported to spring training. He said he couldn't recall a camp where this many have come in. Infielders Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan and Justin Smoak were among those who worked out Wednesday, as did outfielder Michael Saunders.

Tagged: Orioles, Mariners, Joe Saunders, Michael Saunders

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