As recently as two weeks ago Michael Saunders appeared to be in danger of playing himself out of the Mariners’ plans. He was hitting .226, had a career batting average under .200, and remained an everyday player largely due to the Mariners not having better options in center field.
And then something clicked for Saunders in a big way. He went 3-for-5 against the Rangers on May 29, notched three more hits the next day, had four hits two games later, tallied another three hits Tuesday, and kept rolling last night by going 3-for-5 versus the Angels.
Add it all up and Saunders went 18-for-36 (.500) with two homers and five doubles in an eight-game stretch, producing at least three hits in five of those games. To put that in some context, Saunders didn’t have three hits in any of his first 48 games this season and managed three hits just once in 58 games last season.
Eight games are only eight games, obviously, but Saunders’ minor-league track record always suggested he was capable of developing into a solid hitter and at age 25 he might finally be on track. And right now he’s the only Mariners hitter with an OPS above .800. His OPS eight days ago? .691.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉