Mariners lefty Joe Saunders faces his former Orioles team for the second time this season when Seattle closes out the rubber match of a three-game series at Camden Yards on Sunday.
Saunders pitched nine games for Baltimore last year, including two playoff appearances, after being acquired form the Diamondbacks in an August trade. He's never lost to the Orioles, going 6-0 with a 4.22 ERA in eight starts. That includes a complete-game win for the Mariners on April 29.
But he's never faced an Orioles team quite like this one. The home team easily leads the Majors with 148 home runs on the season. Baltimore leads the American League with 19 games of three or more home runs, and the Birds are 50-35 when they hit a homer.
"It's part of our offense. But it's a part of every Major League team's offense for the most part," manager Buck Showalter said after the team's 11-8 victory over Seattle on Friday. "We just have some guys who are capable of doing that who are also good defenders. I think that's the difference. The days that doesn't happen, they can impact the game with their gloves."
Wei-Yin Chen starts for the homer-inclined ballclub, and he searches for his fifth consecutive quality outing. He hasn't recorded a loss in his last six starts, and the O's will rely on the lefty for a low-scoring game in a series that has been dominated by offense.
Saunders was 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA in his first four starts of July, but he struggled during his last two outings, with losses to the Indians and Red Sox while giving up 12 runs (10 earned) and 18 hits in 9 2/3 innings.
The 32-year-old allowed six runs (five earned) and nine hits in an 8-2 loss at Fenway Park to open the current road trip, but he felt he got squeezed by the home-plate umpire on a couple of critical offerings.
"I was throwing good pitches and didn't get much help," Saunders said. "It was a rough night."
Orioles: Chen wants to pitch deeper in games
Chen has pitched well since coming off the disabled list, recording a 2.57 ERA in four starts. Still, the lefty wants to do even more. After his last start, in which he threw career-high 119 pitches in 7 1/3 innings, Chen said that he'd like to pitch deeper into games to spare Baltimore's bullpen.
"To be honest with you, I'm a little tired right now," Chen said after the start. "This was the first time I threw that many [pitches] in the U.S., but I definitely felt really strong and really good.
"I really wanted to pitch the eighth inning, ninth inning. I really wanted to close the game today. But unfortunately, I had to give the ball to the bullpen guys."
Mariners: Thompson juggling a crowded outfield
The return of Michael Morse off the disabled list will limit Dustin Ackley's playing time as acting manager Robby Thompson attempts to juggle a crowded outfield situation.
With Morse playing right field and Raul Ibanez handling much of the left-field duties, Thompson prefers Michael Saunders in center defensively to help out those two corner outfielders.
"You throw your best center fielder out there to cover as much ground as possible," Thompson said. "Ack is in transition from infield to outfield. We want to get him some time in left field some, too. I talked to him yesterday and he understands. I just told him, 'Hey, you're not going to be forgotten, you're going to play. And he said, 'Hey, I get it.' We'll mix and match."
In two games against the Orioles, Morse has four hits, including two doubles and a home run.
• The O's have won 10 of their last 13 games against Seattle, and they are 19-10 against the AL West.
• Seattle's Kendrys Morales has hits in 10 of his last 13 plate appearances, having gone 4-for-4 in both Thursday and Friday's games.
Jacob Thorpe is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.