Justin Smoak #17 of the Seattle Mariners hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Safeco Field on May 10, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

by Curtis Crabtree
KJR reporter
Twitter: @Curtis_Crabtree

SAFECO FIELD - The Seattle Mariners placed outfielder Michael Saunders on the 15-day disabled list on Friday with a strained oblique muscle suffered last night against the Minnesota Twins.

Saunders visibly winced while checking his swing in the eighth inning and was removed the game by manager Lloyd McClendon. Saunders had an MRI today which revealed a Grade 2 oblique strain.

"He's going to be out a little while," McClendon said.

Saunders was upset by the news and thought a better prognosis was possible after going through a range of tests.

"Obviously, it's extremely frustrating for me," Saunders said. "That being said. I guess it’s something I have to deal with and do my best get back in there as soon as possible."

Saunders has been one of the most consistent hitters in Seattle's lineup this season. Saunders has hit .276 with six home runs and 28 RBI for the Mariners in 65 games. He previously missed 14 games to the disabled list after straining the AC joint in his right shoulder in June.

This injury will likely require significantly more down time before he's able to return. He's still trying to remain optimistic he'll be able to return sooner than anticipated.

"It felt like a muscle cramp at the time," he said. "I didn't know the extent of the injury. I've never dealt with an oblique issue before. I didn't really know what to expect. Movement-wise I feel pretty good. If I do certain things, I can feel it. But it feels like a muscle cramp more than anything, not a sharp pain, which I'll take as a good sign."

The Mariners recalled first baseman Justin Smoak from Triple-A Tacoma to fill Saunders' spot on the roster. Smoak had been optioned to Tacoma on July 3 after completing a rehab stint. Smoak was placed on the disabled list on June 11 with a strained left quadriceps.

Smoak said he finally feels like he has his legs back under him.

"The last five or six or seven days, the legs are starting to get better," he said. "My legs are feeling great.

"I tried to play through some things and I think I started overcompensating and using my upper body more. No excuses. It was part of it. I'm just trying to get back to where I was the first month of the year."

Smoak hit .252 with four home runs and 22 RBI in his first 33 games of the season. However, his numbers began to slide after that. Smoak hit just .155 with three home runs and seven RBI in his last 30 games.

The injury continues to become a bigger problem. Over the last 11 games he played, Smoak hit just .069 (2 for 29). He was relegated to defensive replacement duty only in four of his final five appearances while resting the quad injury before landing on the disabled list.

Game Notes:

ODDS AND ENDS…dropped 3 straight games and are 1-3 during current homestand…batting .296 (32x108) during current losing streak, but scored only 3 runs (2x15 with RISP)…are 2-5 in last 7 games, but still won 6 of 11, 12 of 19 and 15 of last 24 games…overall have the 5th-best winning percentage in the American League (49-43/.533).

·          The Standings – Mariners are 3rd in AL West, 9.0 back of Oakland and 5.5 back of 2nd-place LAA…currently hold the second wild card spot, 1.5 games ahead of Toronto and Kansas City.
·          DominatingFelix Hernandez ranks 2nd in the AL in ERA (2.11), 3rd in strikeouts (145), T5th in wins (10), 1st in quality starts (17), 2nd in innings pitched (136.1) and 1st in WHIP (0.895).
·          10+ Hits – When recording 10+ hits the Mariners are 28-6 (.823)…lost last 2 games with 10+ hits.
·          Batting RaceRobinson Cano is 4th in the AL with a .327 batting avg (112x342).
·          The CloserFernando Rodney is 1st in the AL with 26 saves (26-for-28 in save opps).
·          Multi-Hit SpecialRobinson Cano is T3rd in the AL with 35 multi-hit games…T4th with 112 hits.
·          Maurer PowerBrandon Maurer has not allowed a run in 5 games in relief (9.2 IP, 4 H, 11 K, 2 BB).

FELIX ON EXTRA RESTFelix Hernandez is starting tonight on five days rest…is 3-0 with 1.67 ERA (8 ER, 43.0 IP) with 54 K’s in 6 starts when he has 5 days of rest between starts.

SEARCHING FOR 11Felix Hernandez is looking for his 11th win of the season…would be first time in his career to win 11 games before the All-Star Break…has won 10 games before the break in 2013 & 2009…looking to become only the 11th pitcher in club history to win 11 game prior to the AGS (last: Moyer-12/Pineiro-11 both in 2003).

THE AGE OF STRIKEOUTSFelix Hernandez has recorded 1,848 strikeouts in his 288 career starts…at age 28.094, Felix’s strikeout total is 6th-most in MLB history (since 1900) before reaching a players 29th birthday.

CHASING GAYLORDFelix Hernandez has recorded 10 consecutive starts where he has pitched at least 7.0 innings and allowed 2 or fewer runs (6-1, 1.40 ERA, 85 SO, 11 BB)…the streak is the 2nd-longest by an AL pitcher dating back to 1974 when Gaylord Perry had a 11-start streak for the Indians…he is the first pitcher with 10 straight starts of 7.0 IP, 2 or less runs in a single season since Mike Scott (HOU) in 1986…Felix is tied for the MLB lead with 17 quality starts (J. Cueto - CIN).

STRIKEOUT RATES…tonight’s starting pitcher match-up features two of the top K/9.0 IP hurlers over the last three seasons…since 2012, Felix Hernandez is 7th best in MLB with 9.18 K/9.0 IP (584 K’s, 572.2 IP), while Jeff Samardzija ranks 9th with 8.98 K/9.0 IP (502 K’s, 503.1 IP).

STREAKING VS. THE A’SRobinson Cano has recorded at least one hit in 18 consecutive games vs. Oakland (since 9/22/12)…during the 18-game hitting streak he is batting .338 (26x77) vs. the A’s with 10 runs scored, 6 doubles, 1 home run and 8 RBI…the streak is the 2nd-longest of his career vs. any team, trailing only a 19-game hitting streak vs. Baltimore in 2010-11.

PROJECTING SEAGERKyle Seager leads the team with 14 home runs and 61 RBI…is on pace for a 25-homer, 107 RBI season, which would mark the first 25+ HR, 100+ RBI season by a Mariners player since Richie Sexson (24 HR, 107 RBI) and Raul Ibañez (33 HR, 123 RBI) in 2006…he is already the first Mariners player with 14+ HR and 60+ RBI at the All-Star break since Ibañez in 2006 (20 HR, 70 RBI).

ALL ABOUT THE PEN…over the last 18 games (since June 20), the Mariners bullpen has a 0.97 ERA (7 ER, 65.0 IP) with 64 strikeouts…overall, the Mariners bullpen leads the Majors with a 2.39 ERA and leads the AL with a .212 opponent batting average.

MIS(P)ING IN ACTION…Seattle is 2-for-the-last-33 (.061) with runners in scoring position, a stretch that dates back to the end of the game on July 5 at Chicago…have not had a run-scoring hit with a runner in scoring position since Brad Miller’s go-ahead double in the 14th inning on July 5.