PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) - Opening day is a week away, and the Seattle Mariners don't have a regular center fielder yet.
Michael Saunders is trying to change that.
The leading candidate to go if Franklin Gutierrez isn't ready, hit a two-run homer, stole a base and scored two runs in the Mariners' 9-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.
``He's staying in at_bats longer. He's doing a better job of getting hitter's counts,' Seattle manager Eric Wedge said of Saunders. ``The more he continues to play ... the better the results will be.'
Gutierrez won his first Gold Glove last season but stomach problems have limited him to nine games. He's also been scratched from the lineup due to a sore back, but the stomach issue has kept him out since March 19.
``It's been a tough spring for him,' Wedge said. ``Still trying to figure it out. Obviously he's behind so once we do get it figured out we'll reassess and go from there, but it's getting late.'
Also getting looks in center has been Ryan Langerhans, who is coming back from offseason elbow surgery and finding his hitting stroke.
Melky Cabrera, Alex Gordon and Lance Zawadzki each hit two-run homers for Kansas City, and the Royals broke a four-game spring training losing streak.
The Royals trailed 4-0 before scoring nine straight runs, including five in the sixth. Pedro Feliz added a pair of RBI doubles and Bruce Chen gave up four runs on five hits in six innings.
``It was an excellent outing for Bruce,' Royals manager Ned Yost said. ``He had the one inning, and just reined it in from that point on.'
Seattle scored four runs in the bottom of the third highlighted by three third-inning doubles, and four more in the ninth keyed by Saunders' two-run shot.
Right-hander Doug Fister struggled in the last three innings of his start and gave up six runs on seven hits, walking three in six innings.
NOTES: Mariners C Miguel Olivo batted in a minor league game Thursday as he continues his rehabilitation from a strained left groin. He caught three innings, batted twice and threw out a runner in a minor league intrasquad game Wednesday. ... Seattle C Adam Moore hit an RBI single and threw out Feliz trying to steal second, to help secure a spot as the backup.
The Associated Press News Service
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