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Originally published Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 8:44 PM

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John Stearns takes over as Mariners third-base coach while Jeff Datz deals with cancer

"It's very unfortunate," Stearns said. "It's not about John Stearns coming up here. That's not what this is about. This is about me coming here to hold the fort."

Seattle Times staff reporter

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John Stearns coached third base a couple of nights ago for Class A High Desert, just to knock off the rust — Stearns hadn't been in the coaching box since 2006, when he managed Double-A Harrisburg in the Nationals' organization.

Stearns knew he would be coming up to fill in for Mariners third-base coach Jeff Datz, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and will be required to miss some games. Stearns just didn't know that he would be called into action Monday night. He had flown to Seattle to acclimate himself to the team. But he found out at about 4 p.m., when manager Eric Wedge informed him that Datz wasn't feeling well, that his debut would come Monday. So Stearns was out there for the Mariners' 6-2 victory over the Orioles, getting to wave a few runners around.

"I feel pretty good down there," said Stearns, 61, a four-time All-Star catcher with the Met during his playing career. "The hardest thing is learning the signs. I'm trying to learn the signs right now. It's difficult to do that in one day. ... If I get that conquered, I can move forward and help the team win."

Stearns, who coached third again Tuesday and probably will Wednesday and on the upcoming road trip, is respectful of the difficult circumstances under which he's temporarily assuming the job.

"It's very unfortunate," he said. "It's not about John Stearns coming up here. That's not what this is about. This is about me coming here to hold the fort. And us getting Jeff Datz well, and standing behind him, and building him up as much as we can. That's what my goal is. I don't expect to be here all year. We want Datzy to be well. However long he's going to be out, I'm going to try to do as good a job as he's already done here and established here."

Stearns has coached third base at Safeco Field before — in the 2001 All-Star Game. Stearns was the Mets' third-base coach that season, and with Bobby Valentine managing the National League All-Star squad by virtue of winning the pennant the previous year, Stearns coached third in the Mid-Summer Classic.

Notes

Michael Saunders said his goal is to pick up where he left off before his shoulder injury. Certainly, a home run on his first swing off the DL, which is what happened on Monday, is a good way to do that.

"I was looking to be aggressive, and I saw a fastball right out of the chute," he said.

Wedge had said after the game that the homer — Saunders' first career leadoff homer — fired up the Mariners.

"The leadoff hitter tries to set the tone, but the tone was already set with Saunders — the other Saunders, the starting pitcher," he said of namesake Joe, who pitched a complete-game four-hitter. "He pitched an incredible game."

For Saunders, "aggressive" is the key word.

"I vowed to stay aggressive last year, I vow to stay aggressive this year. If I get a pitch to hit, I'm going to be taking a hack at it."

Jason Bay got the start Tuesday against right-hander Jason Hammel, a nod to his hot bat. Earlier in the season, Raul Ibanez might have started against the righty, but Ibanez is mired at .161 and is 2-for-25 in his past seven games.

"He's just working on having the consistency with his swing, his approach, that allows him to be successful," Wedge said. "He hasn't had as much opportunity of late to play. It's a long season. With Saunders back, the way Bay's been swinging the bat, trying to get Kendrys (Morales) going too, and (Michael) Morse swinging better, there's not a spot for him right now. But he'll continue to play. We'll get him back in there."

• The Mariners have signed veteran outfielder Corey Patterson to a minor-league deal and assigned him to extended spring training in Peoria. Patterson was in spring training with the Mariners in 2010 but didn't make the ballclub. He ended up with the Orioles and had one of his best seasons, hitting .269 and stealing 21 bases in 25 attempts. Patterson is 33 and last appeared in the majors with St. Louis in 2011.

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