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Saunders debuts in right field for Blue Jays

New addition gives Toronto a historic three Canadian starters

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are one step closer to being fully healthy after outfielder Michael Saunders made his debut in the lineup on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.

Saunders missed the first 17 games of the year as he recovered from left knee surgery. At one point, the veteran wasn't expected to return until the All-Star Break, but the meniscus in his knee was removed, instead of repaired, which sped up the rehab.

The 28-year-old Saunders appeared in nine rehab games for Class A Advanced Dunedin prior to his return and went 7-for-30 (.233) with three doubles, three walks and a pair of RBIs while striking out eight times.

"It has been a long road, emotional and physical rollercoaster, but I'm definitely ready," said Saunders, who went 0-for-2 with a walk in his season debut, a 4-2 loss to the Rays. "At the time it's kind of tough, but definitely beneficial, to spend an extra week playing some games, getting my legs underneath me, so when I finally got here, be able to hit the ground running and hopefully never look back.

"I feel ready, I feel strong, I've played four or five games in the outfield now so I feel my spring legs are behind me. And I've said this since Day 1, nobody is more excited than me to be here."

Saunders' presence in the lineup also allowed the Blue Jays to make history on Saturday night. Toronto became the first team in the Major Leagues to have three Canadian position players in its starting lineup. In addition to Saunders, the club also had Dalton Pompey in left field and Russell Martin behind the plate.

The Canadian roots are something that Saunders has been talking about ever since the Blue Jays acquired him from Seattle during the offseason. Saunders has an extensive history with Baseball Canada, and the ability to play for the only big league team north of the border is something that he has been looking forward to for months.

"It's pretty special," Saunders said of three Canadians in the starting lineup. "Not only that but to represent Canada's team is pretty special too. It's pretty amazing how that has coincided with one another. I think it just goes to show that baseball is starting to evolve in Canada.

"At first it was led by guys that I grew up watching, the [Larry] Walkers, the [Ryan] Dempsters, Jeff Francis who is a teammate now as well. [Justin] Morneau, [Joey] Votto, so on and so forth. Now you see the next generation coming with Pompey and those guys, it's pretty special and I think it's going to continue to evolve."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
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