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Originally published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 7:13 PM

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Michael Saunders looks ready to return in a week for Mariners

Outfielder's return from shoulder injury could cause some roster havoc

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Simple solution: As much as I like him--unload Ibanez and replace him with Chavez... MORE
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Send Smoak down. Morales and Ibanez 1st base/DH. MORE

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Michael Saunders took early batting practice Friday for the Mariners, then proclaimed he plans to play in a week when he's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list.

"It feels pretty good," Saunders said of the sprained AC joint in his shoulder, suffered last week when he collided with the right-field wall. "It's no more pain. It's more stiffness now, so we're waiting for the inflammation to go down. But I feel like I'm ahead of schedule right now."

That will leave the Mariners with an interesting dilemma, because Endy Chavez, the emergency center fielder called up from Class AAA when Saunders got hurt, is out of minor-league options. That means the Mariners would risk losing Chavez to a waiver claim if they attempt to outright him back to AAA — leaving them extremely vulnerable if Saunders was to get hurt again.

Franklin Gutierrez continues to struggle to stay on the field and did not start Friday for the second consecutive game because of leg stiffness.

Even when healthy, Gutierrez needs to be replaced in the field two or three times a week.

Other than Saunders, the only center fielder the team has in the majors or AAA who can play in the big leagues if needed is Chavez.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge didn't want to speculate on what the team will do when Saunders comes back. If the Mariners don't want to risk exposing Chavez to waivers, they would have to get rid of either Raul Ibanez or Jason Bay.

Ibanez is guaranteed $2.75 million and has seen regular playing time with Gutierrez out. Bay is owed just $1 million this season, but he bats right-handed — unlike the left-handed hitting Chavez — and the team doesn't want to lose that dimension from its outfield and off the bench as a pinch-hitter late in games.

NOTES

• Wedge remains hopeful the team can do something about the blood blister that keeps shortening the outings by No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma. "These four days will be important," Wedge said of the time before Iwakuma's next start Tuesday in Houston. "Him keeping on it every day and trying to keep it away from the irritation."

• The Mariners entered play Friday tied with Tampa Bay for the most shutouts against opponents, having done so three times each. According to USA Today and the Elias Sports Bureau, the Mariners' 2-0 victory over Detroit on Thursday was the 41st in baseball this season — equaling the mark for all of last April. As of Thursday, 19 percent of all games this season had ended in a shutout, the most since 1972.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

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