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Struggling Almonte benched on Saturday

HOUSTON -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has been firm in his support of Abraham Almonte since the start of Spring Training, but the patience may be running out as Almonte was replaced again in center field by Michael Saunders for Saturday's game against the Astros.

Almonte is hitting .198 with a .248 on-base percentage and McClendon moved him to the No. 9 spot in the order Friday. But the 24-year-old went 0-for-3 with a walk and committed two errors, including a costly miss of a high fly in the third inning that led to an unearned run by Felix Hernandez in what turned out to be a 5-4 loss in 11 innings.

Thus Saunders was in the leadoff spot for a third straight game Saturday, even against left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel, and McClendon went with right-handed hitting Cole Gillespie in left and Stefen Romero in right as the switch-hitting Almonte sat out.

McClendon has given Almonte 26 games and 106 at-bats while continually saying he was willing to live with the growing pains because of his belief that the youngster has a high upside, but he acknowledged Saturday that patience has a limit.

"That's why he's sitting, because it's not working," McClendon said. "It's that simple. I don't try to sugarcoat anything. He's not playing because he's not producing. He's not playing up to his capabilities. I said earlier, 'there's one of two ways you can do it. You can play 'em or you can bench 'em.'"

Almonte hit .264 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 25 games last year as a September callup, but has struggled to duplicate that success while being thrust into a key leadoff role in 2014.

"Listen, it's not easy at this level for any young kid," McClendon said. "I've been there and I know it can get tough. Particularly when you're not producing the way you're capable of producing. I'm sure he's not feeling good about things right now."

Saunders had a leadoff bunt single in the sixth inning Friday to kick off a two-run inning as Seattle took a 4-3 lead, but McClendon said it's going to take more for the Mariners to get where he wants offensively.

"Bunting is nice, but I need guys driving in runs, hitting a three-run homer," McClendon said. "When you outscore the other team, you win. It's not bunts. That's all part of it, but I need runs."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte