Michael Saunders on track to return early next week

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Greg Johns of MLB.com reports that Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders is scheduled to spend the weekend on a minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma before returning to Seattle’s active 25-man roster at some point early next week.

Saunders has been on the 15-day disabled list since suffering a right shoulder sprain when he crashed into the outfield wall at Safeco Field on April 11. He is eligible to be activated Friday but the M’s want him to get some tune-up at-bats in the minor leagues.

“Saunders definitely is headed in the right direction,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “I think he needs to play for a couple days [in the minors]. … We’ve definitely missed him. He’s a big part of this club.”

Saunders will play center field when he returns because Franklin Gutierrez is injured yet again.

The 26-year-old native of Canada was batting .286 with an .833 OPS, one home run, and five RBI and three stolen bases in 34 plate appearances before the sholder sprain. He had 19 homers and 21 steals in 2012.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.