Saunders eyes return before All-Star break

PHOENIX — After seeing starting pitcher Joe Saunders throw a simulated game Tuesday at Chase Field, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said the pitcher could return before the All-Star break.

“It’s possible,” Gibson said. “We’re going to see how he feels tomorrow. We’ll talk to him, look at the rest of our rotation and how it goes out before the All-Star break then consider how it would set up going into after the break.”

Gibson said he prefers Saunders, who was scratched from his June 23 start with shoulder inflammation, make a minor-league rehab start before being activated form the disabled list, just to make sure everything feels right. Should he return before the break, it would probably be Sunday, particularly if Trevor Bauer, the scheduled starter, has any further issues with a strained groin. Still, Gibson reiterated he would rather the team not need Saunders then.
Saunders, though, made pretty clear Tuesday his preference to not go on a rehab assignment.

“We’ll talk about that when we have to, but I feel like I’m ready,” Saunders said. “I feel like I could pitch soon, like even this week. We’ll cross that bridge when we have to.

“I wouldn’t say I don’t want to, but I want to come back here and pitch for the club and start contributing again. … Hopefully we don’t have to cross that bridge. They know my position on it. I would like to pitch for the team as soon as I can.”

Saunders threw 51 pitches to teammates Ryan Roberts, Henry Blanco and Lyle Overbay on Tuesday.

“It felt great to get back on the mound,” Saunders said. “It was a little weird throwing to my own hitters, but they said (the ball) was coming out good. My arm felt amazing, so hopefully I can get back out here ASAP.”

Saunders explained further Tuesday he believes his inability to get loose for the June 23 start could have been related to a combination of dehydration and sleeping on his shoulder funny. It feels fine now, he said, but how it feels Wednesday will determine the next step.

“He had a lot of life in his arm (today),” Gibson said. ” It’s been 15 days or so since he’s thrown, so he should have life in there. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and proceed from there.”

In other injury news, infielder John McDonald said the oblique strain that landed him on the 15-day disabled list has been nagging him on and off for about a month. He figures he suffered the injury during a series in Kansas City, but was able to play through it until being scratched Saturday in Milwaukee. A subsequent MRI revealed the back tightness he’d been feeling was indeed a strained left oblique.

McDonald said the strain is believed to be minor, but didn’t want to put a timetable on his return.

“Until I swing pain free, it does me no good to rush a time frame,” McDonald said. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel.”