Then the Tigers finally broke through in the sixth inning a frustrating finish for the veteran left-hander.
Victor Martinez hit a tiebreaking single in the sixth, and Omar Infante followed with his own RBI single to chase Saunders and help Detroit to a 4-2 victory over Seattle on Monday night. The Mariners have lost seven of eight.
"Everyone hates losing," Justin Smoak said. "We've been in tight ballgames and haven't been able to get the big hit."
Rick Porcello struck out 10 in six innings for Detroit, which moved a step closer to its third straight AL Central title. Porcello (13-8) allowed a run and five hits with two walks, falling one strikeout short of his career high. Drew Smyly got five outs in relief and Jose Veras finished the eighth.
Joaquin Benoit pitched a hitless ninth for his 21st save in 21 chances.
Saunders (11-15) pitched well until the sixth, when he got two outs before a walk and three hits ended his night. He was seen throwing things in the dugout after being pulled, and he did not speak to reporters afterward.
"I think Joe Saunders threw the ball well," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "Against a tough lineup, he threw inside and had a good breaking ball."
Abraham Almonte homered for Seattle.
It was tied at 1 in the sixth when Miguel Cabrera walked and Prince Fielder followed with a single. Martinez's single up the line in right field scored Cabrera, and Infante lined a single to left to make it 3-1.
That rally made a winner of Porcello, who has bounced back nicely after giving up eight earned runs in a 20-4 loss to Boston on Sept. 4.
Porcello pitched his first career complete game in a win over the Chicago White Sox last Tuesday, and he was sharp against the punchless Mariners as well.
"He had some real good sink," Wedge said. "He's more of a complete pitcher than he was three, four years ago, when he was younger."
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the first when Torii Hunter and Cabrera hit back-to-back singles, and Hunter came home on a wild pitch. After that mistake, Saunders quieted Detroit, allowing no more than one baserunner in any inning until the sixth.
Saunders allowed six runs over three innings in his previous start against Houston. He ended up yielding three runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings this time.
"He had the sinkerball working today, the changeup, the slider," Hunter said. "He hit his spots. He kept the ball down. When you keep the ball down, you get a lot of groundballs."
Tom Wilhelmsen relieved Saunders and got out of the sixth, but got hit in the right leg by Alex Avila's leadoff single in the seventh. Wilhelmsen stayed in the game and eventually allowed an RBI single by Hunter with two outs.
"We got lucky," Wedge said. "The liner hit him in the leg on the side between the calf and the knee."
Smoak's RBI single off Smyly in the eighth made it 4-2, but Veras got pinch-hitter Michael Saunders on a flyout to end the threat.
"I feel like we put up some good at-bats, just didn't get the hits to take advantage of it," Wedge said.
NOTES: Porcello struck out 11 against Pittsburgh on May 28. ... Smoak snapped an 0-for-17 slump with a fourth-inning single. ... Detroit RHP Anibal Sanchez (14-7) faces Seattle RHP Brandon Maurer (4-8) on Tuesday night.