Mariners notebook: Franklin Gutierrez returns
Franklin Gutierrez is back in the big leagues. Two years after the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis and after taking a full year off of baseball, Gutierrez received the call from general manager Jack Zduriencik that his bat was needed in the Mariners’ lineup.
“In the beginning I was really nervous because I have been out of baseball for almost two years,” he said. “It was pretty special when I got the call from Jack telling me that I was going to be here, be in the lineup. It’s a huge accomplishment for me because I know I have been working really hard down there to get back to the big leagues. Today is the day.”
It’s a day that Gutierrez does not take for granted.
“It was really hard to be out of baseball for a year,” he said. “I was always thinking and watching baseball. Watching TV, watching your teammates play. It was really hard.”
The time away from the game gave Gutierrez a much needed break both physically and mentally. Years of trying to figure out what was wrong with him and false start after false start took its toll, and while he had an answer as to what was causing the myriad of physical problems he suffered from, managing the illness was not easy. There were different medications to try, a new diet to commit to. The proper balance of rest and activity to master – not just to play baseball but to have more good days than bad in normal, every-day life.
Slowly but surely he gained better control of the condition. After a short stint in winter ball the decision to try to return to the big leagues was made. He signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners and reported to spring training, where he discovered he was not quite ready.
“I was still out of shape,” he said. “Normal out of shape. It took almost two months in Tacoma to feel better.”
Not feeling 100 percent was not reflected in his numbers. Gutierrez hit .317 with an OPS of .902 in 48 games with the Rainiers. He credits being able to communicate with manager Pat Listach and hitting coach Cory Snyder and their understanding of his situation as key factors in the success he had at Triple-A.
“I just went down there and tried to play, not every day, but three or four times a week. It was enough to find myself,” he said.
Gutierrez admitted that he was surprised with the success he has had at the plate after sitting out almost two years. Even with the success, he is realistic about where he is at this point of his career and what he can do.
“Obviously the doctor told me I was never going to get to 100 percent of my health,” he said. “But I was going to be able to play and I am going to be able to manage the thing that I have.”
It has been a battle for Gutierrez, but a battle worth fighting. He may not be the elite center fielder he once was but he is not feeling sorry for himself.
“In life you have to battle a lot of things,” he said. “People have different things they have to battle through. And my thing was there, I had to do it. I didn’t want to go back home and sit and watch baseball again on the couch. I just wanted to be there to try it again knowing obviously that I’m not going to be the guy that I used to be playing in center field but I am going to be able to help the team in other ways. That’s why I am happy to be here and in the lineup again.”
Back in a lineup that needs another right-handed bat, according to manager Lloyd McClendon.
“We’re getting ready to face a lot of left-handers and you have the ability to manipulate your roster and bring pieces in that can help you and at certain times I think it’s just the right thing to do,” he said.
As for Gutierrez’s limitations because of the condition, McClendon is not worried.
“I told him that he just needs to be honest with me on when he can play and when he can’t and that he’s no different from any other player,” McClendon said.
Tonight Guti is good to go.
Austin Jackson, CF
Franklin Gutierrez, LF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Mark Trumbo, RF
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Brad Miller, SS
Roenis Elias, LHP
• To make room for Gutierrez on the 25-man roster, James Jones has been optioned back to Tacoma.
• Thursday is an off day/travel day for the team but Hisashi Iwakuma will be busy as he is scheduled to make his second rehab start. Iwakuma will start for the Rainiers and the hope is he can throw 70-75 pitches.