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Mariners bring Saunders to camp on Minor League deal

Seattle expects vet to compete for lefty specialist role in 'pen

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The temporary sign at a locker in the team's Spring Training clubhouse on Friday to clear a space for Joe Saunders was a pretty good clue that the veteran is rejoining the Mariners, a fact confirmed later in the day by general manager Jack Zduriencik.

The 33-year-old southpaw signed a Minor League deal with a non-roster invitation to Mariners camp after passing his physical exam Friday afternoon. Mariners pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Friday, and they will be on the field for the first time Saturday morning.

Saunders has been a starter most of his 10-year Major League career, but will compete for a role as a lefty relief specialist for a Seattle club that already has seven starting candidates.

"He's experienced and when you look at his numbers, he's been a pretty effective pitcher against left-handed hitters and that's exactly what we're looking for," Zduriencik said. "We've talked about creating some competition for another left-handed spot. Joe Beimel's not back, so it creates an opening. We have a lot of candidates and we'll let them compete."

Saunders was 0-5 with a 6.70 ERA in 14 appearances (eight starts) with the Rangers and Orioles last year after going 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts for Seattle in 2013. The Virginia native was a 2008 American League All-Star with the Angels and has a career 89-86 record with a 4.37 ERA in 235 Major League games, with only six of those in relief.

Left-handed hitters had a .616 OPS against him last year, compared to 1.143 by right handers. For his career, the OPS is .617 vs. lefties and .836 vs. righties.

Seattle has been searching for left-handed bullpen candidates to complement Charlie Furbush, the lone full-time lefty returnee from 2014. Beimel filled the second lefty slot last season, but he remains an unsigned free agent and Zduriencik indicated contract negotiations hadn't been productive.

"You never say never to anything," Zduriencik said. "But at this moment in time, he isn't here, we don't have any discussions going on and we have guys coming in here to compete. We appreciate what he did last year. He was really a nice piece to this thing. But Joe's decision was to look elsewhere, so he's done that."

Lucas Luetge is another southpaw who split time between Triple-A Tacoma and Seattle last year, and the club selected left-handed reliever David Rollins from the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft. Zduriencik also acquired lefty Mike Kickham from the Giants in an offseason trade, claimed Edgar Olmos off waivers and brought in veteran Rafael Perez as a non-roster invitee.

Olmos, who has some Major League experience with the Marlins, was designated for assignment last week. The club is currently waiting to see if he clears waivers.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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