TORONTO -- He has been doing it for five years now, but Michael Saunders still enjoys coming back to Canada and playing in his home country. Toronto is one of the few cities that Saunders checks the schedule for at the beginning of the year.
Saunders proved how much he relishes playing at Rogers Centre yet again in the Mariners' 8-1 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday. He started the game off with a leadoff homer and added another in the fifth inning, hitting both against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Saunders, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, finished the game 3-for-5, adding a double in the ninth inning, with two runs scored and three RBIs.
It was the fourth multihomer game of Saunders' career and second one in Toronto. In 15 career games at Rogers Centre, Saunders has gone deep five times.
"Sometimes it's weird like that -- pitchers, hitters have their places, their teams, whatever it may be," Saunders said about his power display when he plays in Toronto. "I don't know, to be honest."
Saunders has a contingent of friends and family in town to watch Seattle's three-game set against the Blue Jays. Last season, in the Mariners' first visit to Canada in April, Saunders was jeered by the Toronto crowd and promptly responded by drilling a pair of home runs and five RBIs in a Seattle victory. Through the first two games of the series, there haven't been nearly as many boos, perhaps due to the performance Saunders had for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
The 26-year-old Saunders was named the Most Valuable Player in Pool D after batting .727 (8-for-11) with three doubles, a home run and seven RBIs in three games.
"It's always nice to come back," Saunders said. "I do look forward to it. It's always good, too, to see family and friends. It's a blessing to be able to play in front of loved ones."
Saunders, who is batting .300 with four homers, four stolen bases and a .971 OPS in 14 games this season after a breakout campaign last year, feels he gained a lot of valuable experience playing in the Classic.
"It certainly gave me some confidence coming into the season," Saunders said. "It's basically a tournament of all-star teams. It's the best in the world. It's something that, I think, is really good for baseball and I hope it continues throughout the years."
After making his Major League debut in 2009 as a 22-year-old, Saunders spent parts of the next few seasons shuffling back and forth between the Majors and Minors. He has now found a home at the top of Seattle's lineup, playing either right or center field.
The biggest thing, Saunders said, in his evolution as a hitter, was believing that he belonged at the highest level.
"I made a few mechanical adjustments, but mainly it was a mental approach that, I think, really kind of helped me stick the last few years," Saunders said.
Fellow countryman Jason Bay, who is enjoying a good start to the year in his first season with Seattle, has always paid attention to Saunders' growth as a player, but gained a greater appreciation for his skill set once he was able to first suit up alongside him during Spring Training.
Bay believes Saunders is an undervalued asset in the game.
"A lot of people had a lot of good things to say about him in Spring Training and the more you're around, the more you realize they were right," Bay said. "He's really kind of coming into his own. Good defense, good presence at the top of the lineup.
"Kind of in Seattle, a lot of people forget about the West Coast teams. He is a guy that has a real good start on a real good career."
Saunders missed more than two weeks from mid-to-late April with a sprained right shoulder, but has hit three homers and scored eight runs in five games since returning. The Mariners have won four of those contests and manager Eric Wedge doesn't believe that's a coincidence.
"He brings a lot of energy to our club," Wedge said. "He can do so many things to help you win ballgames. There is a level of intensity and toughness there, too, that he brings."
Seager getting right against lefties
TORONTO -- Part of third baseman Kyle Seager's transition to becoming a more complete player is his ability to hit left-handed pitching.
Seager, a left-handed hitter, has gradually improved in that department since making his Major League debut in 2010 and has gained the trust of manager Eric Wedge as a result.
The 25-year-old Seager didn't play much during his rookie season in 2011, and even less against southpaws, but had just a .570 OPS against them. Last season, that number went up to .658 and he hit seven homers against left-handers.
This season, Seager has already gone deep three times vs. lefties and has a .749 OPS. Wedge is well aware of the strides he has made.
"Seeing the ball is a big part of it, but also having the same direction he has against right-handers," Wedge said. "When he does that, he uses the entire field. He can line that ball the other way or drive it pull side, or even drive it to the middle.
"He is just putting himself in a better position to hit left-handers this year."
Seager said he made a small adjustment that has allowed him to see the ball better. He created a different angle at the plate by moving his feet around in the box.
That has given him newfound confidence when stepping up to the dish.
"You try to stay simple," Seager said. "You treat it like you're facing a righty. It's just hitting at that point."
Seager has gotten off to a hot start this year after an impressive sophomore season a year ago. Entering play Saturday, he was batting .304 with four homers, and a team-high 15 RBIs and .365 on-base percentage.
Wedge shuffles lineup to deal with Dickey
TORONTO -- Mariners manager Eric Wedge shuffled the club's lineup with Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey taking the mound for the second of a three-game set on Saturday.
On Friday, Wedge had Jason Bay penciled into the No. 5 spot in the lineup and playing left field, with Justin Smoak hitting behind him at first base. Both those players were not in the lineup on Saturday in favor of Raul Ibanez, who was at DH, and Endy Chavez, who batted eighth and started in left.
Wedge said the decision to sit Bay and Smoak is not indicative of any struggles the two have had at the plate. In fact, the skipper gave them the day off because he believes they are swinging the bat well. He didn't want Dickey's knuckleball to mess with their timing at the plate.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura and Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, whose teams made stops in Toronto in April, discussed how facing a knuckleballer can disrupt a hitter's timing for days. It appears Wedge has the same philosophy.
"It's hard because there is no rhyme or reason to what it's doing," Wedge said about Dickey's knuckleball. "And this guy is even a little bit different, because he has a little bit more [velocity] on it, too, when he wants to. That's why he's the pitcher he is."
Ibanez (10-for-28) and Michael Morse (7-for-27) are the only Mariners with more than four career at-bats against Dickey. The 40-year-old Ibanez has taken Dickey deep three times and sports 1.058 OPS against him.
Kelly Shoppach and Robert Andino, who both sat out Friday, were also in Saturday's lineup, replacing Jesus Montero and Brendan Ryan, respectively.
Chris Toman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.