** here’s my appearance on the Cactus League Report from last night’s Cactus League Report.
Michael Saunders left the Mariners as a player just happy to represent his home country in the World Baseball Classic. He returned to the Peoria complex on Tuesday as a Canadian hero.
Team Canada failed to advance out of the Pool D qualifying, going 1-2 in three games and losing to the U.S. in the deciding game on Sunday. But Saunders did everything he could and more to keep Canada from coming up short.
The Mariners outfielder put together one of the most impressive three-game runs in history of the WBC, winning the Most Valuable Player Award of Pool D, despite his team not advancing.
“He had a heck of a series,” Wedge said. “He was swinging the bat here well for us before he went there. He was looking forward to playing for his country. Obviously, he did a fantastic job for them.”
How good was Saunders?
He hit .727 (8-for-11) with three doubles, a homer, seven RBIs and four runs scored in three games. When Canada needed a big hit, he provided it.
“Unbelievable experience,” Saunders said. “I’m so happy I was able to be a part of that. It was tough leaving the boys and not moving on. But I was excited to get back and start getting ready for the season.”
On a team featuring former American League MVP Justin Morneau and former National League MVP Joey Votto, Saunders was the most productive player.
“I just felt I was locked in,” he said. “I felt like I was seeing the ball well. I felt like I was on time. I wasn’t thinking too much. And I was just trying to square the ball up.”
It helped batting fifth behind Votto and Morneau.
“It’s a lot easier when guys are on base for you every time you come up,” he said.
Saunders also got to see what makes Morneau and Votto so good.
“It’s gotten me ready,” he said. “I feel like I could start the season right now and do just fine. Hitting behind guys like Morneau and Votto, you can learn a lot from them and just see how they go about their business. They’re professionals.”
The atmosphere during those games was something Saunders has never experienced in his professional career.
“It was a playoff atmosphere – every game counted,” he said. “You are representing your country and it really doesn’t matter how well you do as long as your team wins. I’ve never been to playoffs, but I have to imagine that’s what it feels like.”
For Saunders, the WBC games have him prepared for the season.
“I feel like I’m ready to start the season tomorrow,” he said.
The only problem is that there are still 16 spring training games left. But Saunders’ mindset toward those games has changed.
“I know these games are spring training games, but they are going to be taken seriously by me,” he said. “I’m going to try and prepare for the season. What I had for the WBC games, that’s the attitude I need to have on a daily basis come season time. I think that’s the biggest I learned from that experience.”
Of course the now infamous fight between Canada and Mexico was also something Saunders couldn’t avoid talking about. He said he planned on giving teammate Oliver Perez, who pitched for Mexico and was ejected from the game, a big hug when he saw him in the clubhouse.
“It’s part of the game,” Saunders said. “Not many people realize it because people rarely see it. But this is a man’s game. You have to stand up for your teammates, especially on an international level where emotions are running high. It just boiled over. Everyone did what they needed to do. We took care of business and stood up for our teammates and our friends. It looks a lot worse if you are standing in the dugout and everyone else is out there.”
And Saunders left the fracas unscathed.
“Luckily I didn’t get hurt,” he said. “On those kinds of things, you have to keep your head on a swivel because punches are coming from left, right and center. It’s certainly the biggest baseball brawl I’ve ever been a part of.”
It was so big it appeared on the fight segment of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. And for Saunders, a huge hockey fan, that was pretty cool.
“That was awesome,” he said.
Since his MVP performance, Saunders has achieved celebrity status in Canada. His phone has been ringing off the hook and text messages have been floating in from friends and family, while media all over Canada has wanted interviews.
“I had to turn it off,” he said. “It was getting to be too much.”
“Weird injury” sidelines Kinney
Josh Kinney isn’t sure how it happened. He didn’t fall. He didn’t do something on the field. He didn’t do it lifting weights. But from the time he drove to spring training from Missouri till earlier this week, he felt discomfort in his upper back.
That discomfort proved to be a stress reaction in his rib cage. But this rib injury is not on the side of Kinney’s torso where most people normally associate rib injuries. No this is more toward his back underneath his shoulder blade.
“It’s a weird injury,” he said. “It didn’t really affect me running or throwing at first. It just never got better.”
Kinney has been getting treatment and seeing a chiropractor since arriving in Peoria, but nothing seemed to make it better. He hasn’t been able to lift weights or workout normally. In his third outing, he noticed the discomfort had gotten worse when he warmed up. By his fourth outing, he was starting to adjust his mechanics to compensate for the pain. Not surprisingly, he got hit very hard in that outing.
“I had to say something,” he said. “My first couple of outings I was dealing with it and it wasn’t as significant. As a pitcher, you deal with things. The last time I just never got over it. They knew the whole time I was trying to pitch through it. We just didn’t know what it was. But you can’t pitch through something like that, not with your back.”
Kinney had an MRI and the stress reaction – which is a precursor to a stress fracture – was found. He can feel the pain when he takes a deep breath.
“You can’t pitch with that,” he said. “I don’t know how you get one of these things, but I’ve got one.”
Kinney will do very little for two weeks. He can do shoulder and elbow work on his throwing arm to stay in shape, but other than that he can’t do much physical activity. He was upbeat despite the expected time out.
“This is just a bump in the road,” he said.
The Mariners made a roster move on Tuesday optioning left-handed pitcher Anthony Fernandez to Double A Jackson. … Seattle will host the Netherlands on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. in a World Baseball Classic exhibition game. The Netherlands advanced out of the second round of the tournament by beating Cuba, 7-6 on Monday and then losing to Japan in the Pool 1 championship game. The team will also be working out at the Mariners complex in Peoria. One of the Netherlands’ best players is Mariners outfield prospect Kalian Sams, who spent last season with Double A Jackson. Sams was hampered by hand injuries, making two trips to the disabled list. He hit .242 with 11 homers and 35 RBI in 76 games.