SEATTLE -- A frustrating season for Michael Saunders took another hit Friday when he got spiked in the middle finger of his right hand. He'll have to miss a few games, but the Mariners outfielder refuses to let the latest twist detract from a recent upswing at the plate.
Saunders has hit just .199 since returning from the disabled list in late April, after he slammed into the right-field wall and sprained his shoulder. His batting average has plummeted from .286 at the time of the injury to .211, but he did hit .280 (7-for-25) over his last nine games and felt he was getting back on the right track.
"I've been hitting the ball hard, but not a lot to show for it," Saunders said prior to Saturday's game against the Cubs. "That's the way the game goes sometimes. It's unfortunate and frustrating, but all you can do is keep grinding and putting up good at-bats, and eventually it'll come back to you.
"I'm not the first guy to go through this, nor will I be the last, but I feel I'll be not only a better baseball player for it, I'll be a better person for going through something like this. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know good will come from it. It's not something I want to go through, believe me. But it's happened, and I feel like I'm digging my way out of the hole now. I just want to get back out there."
That got sidetracked a bit when Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stepped on Saunders' right hand as he dove back to first on a pickoff attempt in the 10th inning Friday. The fingernail got crushed in the process, leaving a nasty looking finger that isn't going to allow Saunders to grip a bat or throw a ball for several days.
He stayed in and scored the winning run on Mike Zunino's bases-loaded single, but said he would have had to come out had the game continued and he'd needed to play in the outfield.
"I think I'm 'man down' for a few days, but I can pinch-run," Saunders said. "It's a weird spot, and the nail just got crushed down in, so we've got to let it heal and get the swelling down. It's uncomfortable right now, but it's not broken, so that's a good thing."
Now Saunders just wants to get healthy and back to hitting line drives that he knows will eventually fall for base hits.
"I can't get back to .300 in a week," he said. "It's just at-bat by at-bat, game by game, and keep a consistent approach, and by the end of the year, I'll be back where I need to be. There was a while there when I felt I wasn't seeing the ball well, but I'm seeing it well now, and I'm putting up good at-bats at a much more consistent level. That's what is encouraging to me. I know it's only a matter of time before things start falling."
Perez impresses with strong first half
SEATTLE -- One of the best success stories for the Mariners in the first half of the season has been left-handed reliever Oliver Perez, who hasn't allowed a run in his last 14 appearances and has a 0.94 ERA in 31 games.
Perez struck out the side in the ninth inning of Seattle's 5-4 victory over the Cubs in 10 innings Friday night, including a leadoff whiff of right-hander Alfonso Soriano, who had a .357 batting average against him (5-for-14) in prior meetings.
"Oliver has been dominant," manager Eric Wedge said. "I took a chance on him facing Soriano there, looking at his numbers and Soriano's numbers against left-handers. But he's not facing the same Oliver Perez. This is a different guy. And obviously he did a nice job."
After being released by the Mets with one year and $12 million still remaining on his contract in 2010, Perez has resurrected his career as a reliever with Seattle. He posted a 2.12 ERA in 33 games after a midseason callup last year and has performed even better this season.
"He's just completely different," Wedge said of the transition. "You look at the way he was in New York, especially at the end there, his stuff, his pitchability and presence is just completely different. He's reinvented himself. I told him that last spring when we first got him, this should be the beginning of your second career. You're a reliever, that's what you are, that's what you do. And he's just taken it and run with it. And good for him."
Ackley adapting to center field
SEATTLE -- Dustin Ackley figured it was inevitable that the first ball hit to him in center field wouldn't be a lazy fly ball, but a screaming line drive directly over his head.
Ackley, who played second base in his first two-and-a-half seasons in the Majors, took a step forward on the second-inning shot by Anthony Rizzo on Friday night, before quickly retreating and making a stretching catch of the ball before it could zoom past him.
"That was a tough one," said a relieved Ackley, who had only one other routine catch the rest of the night in Seattle's 5-4 win in 10 innings. "I don't think I'd even got a ball like that when I was down in Triple-A, and right out of the gate, you get the tough ball, line drive.
"Those are hard ones to judge where they're going to end up. If he barrels that, it's a lot farther. Fortunately for me, I was able to correct myself in time to catch it, so it worked out.
"My heart jumped, for sure. It calmed down after I realized I caught it. It was good though. It's one of those where you realize, if I can catch that one, I can catch about any of them. So I got it out of the way early."
One of the tough things about converting to the outfield is that a player can go several games barely being tested, then get several critical plays at once with a game on the line. Ackley has played outfield enough in his past to understand the position, but is soaking up as much action as he can to get comfortable now.
"It's just the more reps you can get," he said. "Batting practice helps a lot, taking balls out there. You can't really simulate the balls like last night, the line drives, but you've just got to keep taking balls in BP and get the best reads you can and learn how the ball carries here.
"Compared to second base, the ball looks so small out there. It looks like a golf ball. It's definitely different, but it's going alright. Nothing crazy."
• Rookie second baseman Nick Franklin wasn't in the lineup Saturday due to a stiff neck, though manager Eric Wedge said the issue wasn't serious and Franklin would be available to play if needed.
• When Mike Zunino drove in the winning run in Friday's 5-4 victory over the Cubs with a 10th-inning single, he became the third-youngest Mariner ever to record a walk-off hit at 22 years and 95 days old.
The only younger Mariners with walk-off hits were Alex Rodriguez (20 years, 248 days in 1996) and Danny Tartabull (21 years, 317 days in 1984).
• Brad Miller became the eighth Mariner to make his Major League debut when he started at shortstop on Friday, joining Brian Bantz, Franklin, Bobby LaFromboise, Brandon Maurer, Yoervis Medina, Jesus Sucre and Zunino. The only team to have more players make their debut this season is the St. Louis Cardinals with nine.
• Friday's comeback win was the first in 35 chances this season for Seattle when they were trailing after seven innings.