So what now if Michael Saunders goes on DL?

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersAfter a relatively injury-free Spring Training during which the only significant issue was losing reliever Josh Kinney to the 60-day disabled list with stress reaction in his ribs, the Mariners took a big hit in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the Astros.

Right fielder Michael Saunders, who figures as a key player both defensively and at the top of the lineup this year, crashed into the outfield wall and sprained his right shoulder on the first out of the game.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video.

Tough blow for the Mariners and Saunders, who flashed his considerable potential with a breakout performance for Canada in the WBC this spring and is looking to build on that this season after establishing himself as a everyday starter last year.

Manager Eric Wedge said postgame that it wasn’t a certainty that Saunders would go on the 15-day disabled list, which is good news that it’s at least a question. But shoulders, particularly throwing shoulders, are a tough spot to hurt for an outfielder (see Mike Carp last year).

Assuming Saunders is going to be out at least a couple weeks, what is the short-term solution? We’ll find out this afternoon when the Mariners gather for tonight’s game against the Rangers. But the guess here is veteran Endy Chavez gets the call from Triple-A Tacoma, for one simple reason.

Unless Wedge thinks Franklin Gutierrez is ready to play every day — and he indicated on Tuesday he wasn’t to that point yet — the Mariners will need someone who can play center field.

Jason Bay tinkered with that position in spring, but that appears more of an emergency fill-in solution. Bay is a decent corner outfielder, but he’s not a guy who would instill great confidence in center, particularly if your corner outfielders in that same scenario were Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez.

This is precisely why the Mariners signed Chavez late in spring, knowing they might need a center fielder if they let Casper Wells go and something happened to Gutierrez or Saunders.

Chavez is off to a great start in Tacoma, hitting .429 (12-for-28) through six games. Some of the other Tacoma outfielders are hitting well also — Eric Thames is at .464 and Carlos Peguero is hitting .323 with 10 RBIs.

But Chavez, 35, is a natural center fielder and a veteran whose development wouldn’t be hurt by playing sporadically as Gutierrez’s replacement for a couple weeks. The only downside with Chavez is he’s not on the 40-man roster, so a move would need to be made to clear a spot.

Here’s the current 40-man list.

Or another possibility could lie with the team coming in tonight for a four-game series. The Rangers just designated outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment on Monday. Borbon, 27, is a pretty good defender who runs well and could fill the left-handed leadoff role if needed.

Borbon would be a younger version of Chavez with more upside, if the Mariners could work out a deal with the Rangers. He’s hit .283 with 40 stolen bases in 216 games in parts of three Major League seasons with Texas, though he was at Triple-A Round Rock all of last year where he batted .304 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

So that’s one to keep an eye on, though Chavez is the more-likely immediate solution.

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