ANAHEIM -- The road hasn't been kind to Mariners pitcher Joe Saunders this season, but the 32-year-old lefty figures he's put all that behind him after knocking out his first victory away from Safeco Field on Friday.
Saunders beat the A's in Oakland in his last start with seven innings of one-run ball and now faces the Angels on Wednesday in the familiar setting of Angel Stadium, where he played his first six seasons in the Majors.
Saunders is now 1-4 with a 7.58 ERA in seven road starts, compared to 4-2 with a 2.53 ERA at Safeco Field. But the important thing for the eight-year veteran is that he's been pitching well regardless of what mound he's standing on, going 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his last four outings, two on the road, two at home.
"I feel like this is where I should be," Saunders said. "Obviously the first four road starts weren't exactly the way I planned them out, but now I've turned the page a little bit. My whole thing I pride myself on is being consistent, especially on the road. So I've tried to really turn the page with that, be more consistent and throw up good numbers and stuff and put that other fluky four starts behind me."
The former Virginia Tech standout understands how his road worries became a story. He dealt with the issue head on as his struggles played out, but couldn't wait to put it behind him.
"It's one of those things where it happened, I knew it wasn't me, so it was just a matter of waiting every second of every day to get back out on the road and get back out there and try to put it behind me," he said. "I try to focus more on the road. Obviously our road record isn't very good. It's not where it should be or needs to be, so we as a team know we can play better on the road and now it's just a matter of stepping up and showing it as an organization. It's up to us."
As for pitching in Angel Stadium? He's 25-19 with a 4.60 ERA in 64 career starts in Anaheim, but has pitched there just once since leaving the Angels in 2010. He lost a 2-0 decision at Angel Stadium while with the D-backs last year.
"This is a pretty fair ballpark," he said. "You don't have the big Green Monster or a short fence in right like Yankee Stadium or something like that. It's pretty fair all the way around, so you just go out there and do your thing."
Smoak returns from 20-day stint on disabled list
ANAHEIM -- First baseman Justin Smoak was activated by the Mariners on Tuesday after 20 days on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle, with infielder Alex Liddi optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster.
Smoak hit .238 (5-for-21) with two doubles and one RBI in five rehab games with Tacoma, including a 2-for-5 effort with a double on Monday in Sacramento.
"It was good," Smoak said of his brief rehab stint. "I got some at-bats in and got it tested as much as possible. The last two to three days have been great. I haven't really felt a thing, so hopefully I can stay right there."
The Mariners can use Smoak's return, as first baseman Kendrys Morales has been limited to designated-hitter duties in recent days by a sore back. Outfielder Michael Morse has been filling in at first base, but he's also been slowed the past two weeks by a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg.
"It's important," manager Eric Wedge said of Smoak's return. "He's a fantastic first baseman and he was heading in the right direction offensively before he got hurt."
Smoak, 26, was hitting .240 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 46 games before he hurt the muscle in his right side on a checked swing on May 25. He made one appearance as a pinch hitter on May 29 before going on the 15-day disabled list.
Smoak's on-base percentage of .350 is the highest of any Mariners starter other than rookie second baseman Nick Franklin, who has put up a .382 mark in his first 20 games.
"I feel like I can come right back in and be productive," Smoak said. "That's the key. Try to drive some runs in and do what it takes to win some ballgames."
Liddi hit .059 (1-for-17) in eight games in limited duty while filling in mostly at first base since being called up from Tacoma on May 29.
Mariners shorthanded with Morse, Bay hurting
ANAHEIM -- The Mariners' outfield continued to be shorthanded with both Jason Bay and Michael Morse sidelined Tuesday as Seattle faced the Angels in the second game of a four-game series.
Morse had been playing first base the last few days in order to limit the strain on a sore quadriceps, but got the day off completely after Justin Smoak came off the disabled list to play first base.
Bay was sidelined for a second straight day by a tight hamstring, though he normally wouldn't have faced right-hander Joe Blanton anyway.
"The plan was at least to give him a couple days," manager Eric Wedge said.
Help could be on the way in the outfield with Dustin Ackley working in center and left field at Triple-A Tacoma and Franklin Gutierrez eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on Saturday if his sore hamstring continues to hold up.
General manager Jack Zduriencik was in Sacramento to watch the Rainiers the past two days and Wedge said reports on both Gutierrez and Ackley were positive.
"Jack saw [Gutierrez] last night and said he looked really good," Wedge said. "I know Gut says he's feeling normal, and that's a good sign."
Ackley is hitting .383 in 19 games since being sent down, but has only been working in the outfield for about a week now.
"Jack said he looks real good in left field," said Wedge. "He didn't really have any balls in center field, but he's been OK there, too. And he's swinging the bat, he's up there ready to hit. So he's doing what he needs to do down there, but we just need to give him a little more time in the outfield, whether in left or center.
"The reps in center would just be a concern right now. And I want to make sure what he's doing up there mentally at home plate is real as well."