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Saunders to begin rehab with Triple-A Tacoma

SEATTLE -- Mariners right fielder Michael Saunders will begin a Minor League rehab stint on Thursday with Triple-A Tacoma as he returns from a strained oblique muscle in his left side that has sidelined him the past three weeks.

Tacoma is off on Wednesday, but Saunders will join the team as it opens a five-game homestand against Fresno on Thursday night at Cheney Stadium.

The 27-year-old was put through the paces in the outfield on Tuesday and was deemed ready to return to action.

"I passed all the tests, now it's time to speed it up and get in game situations," said Saunders. "You can't emulate that, so that will be the true test. I'll DH [on Thursday], then get back in the field the following day and we'll take it from there. We have a tentative schedule, so hopefully I can get ready as soon as possible and be ready to come back up."

Saunders made the last road trip with the Mariners so he could work out with the team. He acknowledged the process has been tough as he's watched his club from the sidelines.

"It's very tough to watch from the bench and see the guys out there playing and busting their butts trying to get W's while you're just sitting back watching, feeling like I'm missing out," Saunders said. "Since they're in the hunt right now, I almost feel like I'm letting the team down by being on the DL. So I'm very excited to get the clearance to go down and start my rehab and look forward to getting back up."

The Mariners added outfielders Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia since Saunders went on the 15-day DL, so it remains to be seen how things will shake out when he's ready to return. The current outfield consists of Dustin Ackley in left, Jackson in center and Denorfia and Endy Chavez splitting time in right field.

McClendon said Saunders will need to show he's ready before the question of where he fits in works out. The six-year veteran has hit .276 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 65 games this season.

"Obviously, it depends on his physical capabilities and how he bounces back," McClendon said of Saunders' timetable. "But with hitters, you've got to be swinging good. I don't want you wasting at-bats here."

As for where Saunders will fit in?

"We only have 25 spots," McClendon said. "But it always works itself out."

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