It’s automatic. Any time a person talks about Franklin Gutierrez and his talents on the baseball field - which are many - they also invariably mention his inability to stay healthy. It’s not quite Pavlovian. But it’s a constant and frustrating reminder of what could be and what hasn’t been for the Mariners outfielder.
On Thursday night after Gutierrez went 3-for-4, including the deciding two-run home run in the Mariners 3-2 win over the Houston Astros, snapping a six-game losing streak, manager Eric Wedge couldn’t help lament the possibilities.
“It's hard not to imagine how much better we'd be as a ball club if we had him all year or for the last three years for that matter,” Wedge said.
That reaction to Gutierrez has been earned. This will be the third straight season he has failed to play in more than 100 big league games. The injuries are well documented: sprained ankle, irritable bowel syndrome, torn pectoral, concussion, strained hamstrings and most recently a chronic arthritic condition in his lower back and pelvis.
“He’s really been snake bitten,” Wedge admitted.
Thursday’s win was just the 21st game he’s played with the Mariners this season. In those 21 games, he’s hit seven homers and driven in 14 home runs.
“I’m just happy to be here you know,” he said. “I just came to try to help my team. I’ve been missing a lot of games due to injuries. It feels good to come back, see the ball better, swing and help my team today.”
That swing looked outstanding on Wednesday. He doubled in the second inning on a deep shot that landed on the hill in center field at MinuteMaidPark. And with the Mariners leading 1-0 in the fourth inning and Raul Ibanez on first base, Gutierrez scorched a line drive over the wall in left field off of Astros starter Jordan Lyles to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.
“I’ve been working on my strength to use a little bit more of my legs,” he said. “When you use your legs you can hit the ball better and with power. So as soon as you put a good swing on the ball anything can happen.”
But what can happen in the final 29 games of the season?
“I know that I’m not going to have a season just in one month,” he said. “I’m just focusing on every game when I’m in there, trying to do whatever it takes to win the game, concentrate on every at-bat, try to do the routine plays and that’s the only thing I can concentrate on right now. Just try to keep my body in shape and that’s everything that I’m thinking now.”
Gutierrez’s contract is up after this season. The Mariners have a team option for the 2014 season of $7.5 million. But with Gutierrez’s unpredictable injury issues holding them hostage the past three seasons, it seems unlikely they would exercise the option and pay the $500,000 buyout. Gutierrez isn’t going to get caught up in trying to prove his worth to the Mariners or any other baseball team.
“I don’t think I need to show anything because the things that have been going on, the people who know what’s going on with me, they know what’s been happening with me,” he said. “So obviously I just come in here and play baseball. I’ve been missing being here and now that I’m here I just feel like I want to be there every day. For now I don’t think it can be every day so I have to take advantage of every opportunity that Wedge gave me. “
Gutierrez’s homer allowed Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez to pick up the win and improve to 5-1 on the season. Ramirez worked 5 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.
“He came out there from inning one and really commanded the ballgame,” Wedge said. “He was really aggressive with stuff and brought it right out of the bullpen.”
Ramirez isn’t trying to do anything fancy or mess with his mechanics. It’s more mindset.
“Everything is about confidence - confidence and being aggressive,” he said. “That was really what I’ve done the last three starts, just go out there and not be thinking too much, just be aggressive as I can with all my pitches.”
Ramirez came out of the game with two outs in the sixth and the Mariners leading 3-2. The Seattle bullpen kept it that way. Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina combined to work the seventh and eighth inning, while Danny Farquhar notched his 10th save of the season.
Nick Franklin gave the Mariners the 1-0 lead in the first inning , blasting a deep home run to left field off of Lyles.
After going 0-for-16 with eight strikeouts on the recent Mariners’ home stand, starting the game off with a homer was nice change.
“Things have been going a little rough, lately I’ve just been trying to think about trying to put the ball in play and making contact,” Franklin said.
Like many rookies, Franklin has struggled late in the season. He’s came into the game batting .168 (23-for-137) with 53 strikeouts since July 9. It has been a fight to get out of the funk.
“It definitely gets the best of you,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you gotta come to the field every day and prepare yourself for the game and don’t let yesterday or the day before bother you. I think that’s the biggest thing. A lot of this game is mental, it’s 90 percent mental. It’s a tough toll on your body. But you have to just grind through it and work through it.”