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What's next after tough day for Saunders and Montero?

By Shannon Drayer

A frustrating game Sunday, but thankfully just one game. Safeco Joe was nowhere to be found and Eric Wedge gave him every opportunity to work through his struggles on the hill but to no avail. Joe Saunders surrendered seven runs in five innings and the Mariners dropped the final game to the Blue Jays, 10-2.

This team in this building was probably not a good matchup for Saunders. While this seems ridiculous to write, I feel I need to from what I have seen on Twitter and some of the emails I have received.

You cannot just pitch Saunders at home. He is your No. 3 in the rotation and he needs to get on track away from Safeco. He's not as good as he is at home and he's not as bad as he is on the road, and at some point this should pull closer to even. This is not a guy who is coming off a terrible year. Track record, what has been seen at home and what has been seen between starts are some of the reasons why Wedge will stick with him. He has to give him an opportunity to work through his struggles because the team needs him to be productive.

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After allowing seven earned runs over five innings Sunday against Toronto, Joe Saunders is now 0-4 with a 12.54 ERA away from Safeco Field this season. (AP)
Who else is going to pitch third? You already have question marks at Nos. 4 and 5, although I believe Aaron Harang will settle in a bit more, and barring disaster letting Brandon Maurer work his way through a big-league season could pay big dividends in the near future. Beyond those two there is no one else. Danny Hultzen is hurt. James Paxton has struggled. Erasmo Ramirez is not pitching yet. Blake Beavan clearly needs to rework things. Jeremy Bonderman is coming off his strongest outing in Triple-A but you want to see more than one before you make a move.

It is best for everyone if Saunders is able to figure this out and he is being given that opportunity.

Something that shouldn't be masked by what we saw from Saunders Sunday was the ugly day Jesus Montero had behind the plate, allowing four stolen bases and one passed ball.

One of his biggest shortcomings behind the plate was exposed and it was not pretty. The four stolen bases allowed brought his total this season to 15 in just 17 starts. Chris Iannetta comes in with a league-worst 19, but he has started 23 games. Steals per inning for the two are nearly identical. Montero has yet to throw out a runner this season.

Why were the Jays running? Perhaps a little of the blame can be put on Saunders' slow delivery, but the majority of it is probably due to scouting. Montero often drops to one knee when he receives the ball, which makes it much more difficult to get a quick throw off. Learning to stay on his feet was something he was told to work on when he went home for the offseason, but when he reported to spring training he was still dropping to the knee and there was some frustration about that. On Sunday it caught up with him.

Montero's development, as I have pointed out numerous times, should be a top priority. This is someone the organization needs to get value from or value for. The belief has been that he can best learn at this level. If you read me I think you know my feelings on that. Tough to learn if he is not playing and tough to play him if it appears he is not learning. While there have been flashes here and there we have yet to see consistency.

News and notes

Brandon Maurer has been pushed back in the rotation as Wedge and Carl Willis took the opportunity to limit his innings some with the off days early this month. This is not a performance issue, rather a necessity as Maurer has never pitched more than 138 innings in a season. He will start the first game against Oakland at home.

• Pitchers hit the next two games in Pittsburgh and while Aaron Harang and the relievers have been taking batting practice for some time now, Felix Hernandez was not allowed to hit until Sunday morning. With the back stiffness he has experienced this season, Wedge didn't want to take any chances having him swing the bat any more than necessary.

Franklin Gutierrez does not appear close to a return, although he is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 8. I asked Wedge about his progress earlier this weekend and was told he has yet to resume baseball activities and will be looked at when the team returns to Safeco for the three games against Oakland.

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