ST. PETERSBURG -- Justin Smoak was out of the starting lineup for the second time in the past three games on Saturday as the Mariners first baseman continues dealing with a sore quadriceps muscle in his left leg.
Veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist took his place again at first against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Bloomquist hadn't started at first base since 2004 when he replaced Smoak in Wednesday's victory in Atlanta, but he handled the position without any problems.
Manager Lloyd McClendon had hoped sitting Smoak in Atlanta, combined with the team's off-day Thursday, would refresh the 27-year-old. But Smoak struggled running to first on a groundout in his first at-bat in Friday's 4-0 loss to the Rays. He also didn't move well in his second at-bat after he walked and had to run to second on an infield single by Cole Gillespie.
Smoak stayed in the game and struck out in his final two at-bats to finish 0-for-3, but McClendon had seen enough.
"His running was not good at all," McClendon said prior to Saturday's game. "He's not a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, but he was really dragging it yesterday. I just didn't like what I saw."
After hitting .250 through April, Smoak has struggled the past five weeks, and his average is down to .208. He's still tied for the team lead with 12 doubles, tied for second in home runs with seven and is third on the club with 29 RBIs.
Because he appeared in Wednesday's game as a pinch-hitter, Smoak remains the only Mariner to have played in all of the club's first 60 games. But his production has dipped in recent weeks, and McClendon feels the strained quad has contributed to that, so he'd like to get the youngster's legs back under him.
Smoak says the nagging injury just hasn't improved, despite the team's first off-day in 17 days on Thursday.
"It was a little bit more of the same," Smoak said. "I'll give it a rest [Saturday] and go from there. I actually felt really good [Friday] during BP and before the game. Then the first at-bat, running down … it's not something like it's real crazy. Just a little bit of the same. It's a little tight in there. I just have to keep trying to loosen it up."
The switch-hitter said the leg impacts his swing from both sides of the plate.
"Right-handed when I stiffen up my front leg, I feel it a little. And left-handed when I really try to get it going, I feel it a little bit," he said. "But it's just something minor, hopefully, and I'll get through it and be ready to go."
With Saunders day to day, Gillespie gets start
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariners lost one of their hottest hitters Friday when Michael Saunders felt his right shoulder tighten up while swinging the bat in the third inning of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay, and the right fielder was out of the lineup for Saturday's rematch with the Rays.
Saunders didn't believe the injury was anything serious, but more of a discomfort. The 27-year-old was scheduled to meet with the Rays' team doctor on Saturday to make sure there's no structural problem with what manager Lloyd McClendon called "an impingement."
"Right now, he's day to day," said McClendon, who indicated no MRI test had been scheduled.
Saunders has hit .356 over his last 17 games to raise his average from .226 to .280. With six doubles, three triples and four home runs, his .448 slugging percentage on the season is second on the team behind Kyle Seager's .476 entering play Saturday.
Saunders was replaced in right field on Saturday by Cole Gillespie, who has been on a hot streak of his own. Gillespie is 7-for-13 over his last four starts to raise his average from .217 to .333. Gillespie has played 20 games for the Mariners since being called up from Tacoma on April 24. The 29-year-old outfielder spent parts of the past four seasons with the D-backs, Giants and Cubs.
The right-handed-hitting Gillespie has been used mostly against left-handed pitchers by McClendon, but was in the lineup Saturday against right-hander Alex Cobb.
"We're just trying to mix and match," McClendon said. "Righties hit this guy in the past and have had some success this year off him. I'm just trying to see what we've got. We don't have the perfect lineup, so we're just trying to mix and match and put guys in there and hopefully find a little lightning in a bottle."
• Going into Saturday's game, Robinson Cano had hit .379 over his last 29 games since May 3, the highest average in the Majors in that span. The next closest was the Tribe's Lonnie Chisenhall and the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, both at .360.
• Right-hander Brandon Maurer has been moved into a relief role since being sent down to Triple-A Tacoma. The 23-year-old made his second bullpen appearance Friday and picked up the save with a 1-2-3 inning in one of the Rainiers' two wins in a doubleheader sweep of Albuquerque.