By Jim Moore
Ready for the Joe Saunders era to start in Seattle? Me too.
It might last one year, might last longer than that. I'm just glad the Mariners found a veteran left-hander to add to a rotation tentatively featuring four right-handers -- Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan.
I like to think that Saunders is more than a Kevin Millwood-type place-holder who is only here to eat innings until Danny Hultzen or Taijuan Walker or another young hurler is ready to join the big-league team.
Saunders is only 31. In his major-league career, he's 78-65 with a 4.15 ERA.
When I think of Joe Saunders, I like to think of the guy I saw pitching for the Orioles against the Rangers in the wild-card play-in game last year. He came through in a big way, pitching the Orioles to a win over the heavily favored Rangers, who were playing at home. That's proof that he's a big-game pitcher.
Better than that, Saunders is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA at Safeco Field. Granted, Safeco Field's dimensions are changing this year -- moving in the left-center field wall as much as 17 feet could certainly hurt a lefty like Saunders. Right-handed batters hit .307 against him last year.
But I like his chances to adjust to the new ballpark. I'll take a 4.15 ERA. If he gives up three to five runs in every start, the Mariners likely will be in every game with the lineup they have this year.
Dave Wyman and I talked to Saunders on Thursday. Besides his reasonably good numbers as a pitcher, we found other reasons to like him and pull for him.
As you may or may not know, if a guy drinks beer, plays golf and owns a dog, he's more than fine by me, and Saunders went 3-for-3. Or 2.5 out of 3 if you want to get downright technical about it.
Saunders "owns" an English Bulldog, but she stays with his mom because he didn't want to put her through the constant moves that a baseball player makes in his career.
He enjoys having cold ones while he's playing golf, and Saunders is a good stick, sporting a 4 handicap. He shot a career-best 68 at Ocotillo in Chandler, Ariz.
Saunders married his college sweetheart, Shanel Garofalo, a softball player he met while they were students at Virginia Tech. Garofalo, a native of Vancouver, B.C., still insists that she's the best athlete in the family.
Joe and Shanel have two daughters, 4-year-old Mattea and 2-year-old Avellina. More than anything else, he likes hanging out and "snuggling" with his kids.