Blue Jays’ Saunders excited for long-awaited return to Seattle

Michael Saunders talks with Barry Davis about his time with the Seattle Mariners and why he is excited to play against his former team in a Blue Jays uniform.

SEATTLE – The return visit to Safeco Field a knee injury prevented him from making a year ago arrived Monday for Michael Saunders, who was flooded by memories walking through his former home.

"I haven’t been back here since 2014," he said before his Toronto Blue Jays opened a pivotal three-game series against the Seattle Mariners. "All the relationships myself and my family created over the years with this organization and the people – it took me about an hour to get to the clubhouse when I arrived at Safeco, just seeing everyone, giving everyone hugs and catching up. It’s a really good experience and I’m happy to be here. This one was circled on my calendar since Day 1."

Saunders didn’t get the start Monday but will play the final two games of the series as manager John Gibbons opted for his top defensive alignment on the mound with Marco Estrada starting.

"Flyball guy, put our flyhawks out there and let them run those down," said Gibbons.

Saunders, a native of Victoria, B.C., was drafted in the 11th round of the 2004 draft by the Mariners and made his big-league debut in 2009. Over parts of six seasons with Seattle, he posted a .685 OPS in 553 games, often fighting through injuries that kept him from reaching his potential.

During that time he saw the Canadian invasion of fans arriving whenever the Blue Jays visited, making it feel like the Mariners were playing on the road.

"We were (at a road game)," he quipped. "I’m excited to be on the other side of the spectrum this time. It was unreal, ever since I got called up in 2009 when the Jays came to town, we were playing a road game. That’s just the love and support that West Coast Canada gives the Blue Jays. We travel well, we’ve shown it all year. This one is going to be a little bit different being in the visitors’ dugout."

He’ll get more love this week, for certain.

"I was a big traitor," he said of how Blue Jays fans would treat him. "Like I had a choice, right? They treated me well but it’s funny, sometimes you’d hear that you’re a traitor and all this kind of stuff. Very passionate Canadian fans. Heaven forbid a Canadian plays for another team. Hopefully I’ll get a little bit more of a cheer this time around."

Given that the Blue Jays only led the Mariners by two games for the second wild card heading into the opener, there was plenty on the line, too.

"That’s why we go through what we do in the off-season, spring training and play every day for five months, is to play meaningful baseball in September and that’s what we’re doing," said Saunders. "I know that we haven’t been playing the best of baseball in the month of September but the fact that we’ve gotten through what we’ve gotten through and we’re still where we are today is really good. There’s no panic in the clubhouse but we know that we need to start playing better baseball. This will be a big series."

NOTES: Lefty reliever Brett Cecil, who’s allowed only three runs in 16 innings over his last 23 appearances, may get more work out of the bullpen. "Lefties, righties, he’s been pitching good lately," said Gibbons. "We won’t just lock him necessarily into left-handers." … The Blue Jays plan to be a bit more careful with the usage of Joe Biagini, who’s already logged 62.2 innings over 55 games. "With Biagini, he shows you when he’s rested that he’s really, really good," said Gibbons.

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