Franklin Gutierrez hasn’t been part of a major or minor league baseball game since more than a year ago.
Seattle Mariners fans knew the outfielder as “Death to Flying Things.” He’s hoping maybe there’s still an opportunity to continue playing.
“I’ve been training, trying to keep my body in shape because I don’t want to come out and say I’m retiring right now,” Gutierrez said from inside the Mariners clubhouse on Saturday after playing in the organization from 2009-16.
“If I’m going to retire, I’m going to retire on my own terms. That’s why I’m doing this.”
The 35-year-old from Venezuela was back at Safeco Field on Saturday to throw the ceremonial first pitch, but he arrived more than three hours before game time to catch up with some former teammates and clubhouse attendees.
Felix Hernandez came and hugged him while Guiterrez interviewed with some reporters.
“And here is one of my best friends,” Gutierrez said.
So what’s Gutierrez been up to?
He’s still learning how to deal with ankylosing spondylitis, a rare inflammatory disease that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2014 season with the Mariners. He had signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and played 35 games in a platoon role before heading to the disabled list after a June 24 game and never returning.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Welcome back, old friend.<br><br>Guti fired a strike with tonight's ceremonial first pitch. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/VamosMarineros?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#VamosMarineros</a> <a href="https://t.co/1FgpXGjwH6">pic.twitter.com/1FgpXGjwH6</a></p>— Los Marineros (@Mariners) <a href="https://twitter.com/Mariners/status/1038600279065874432?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 9, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
He has a career .257 batting average, .311 on-base percentage and 97 home runs in 954 career games between the Indians, Mariners and Dodgers. He said he’ll play winter ball in Venezuela to prove to himself and others if he can still play. He’s also considering coaching, he said.
“I’ve been able to control the disease through my exercises and diet and medication and I’m feeling much better,” Gutierrez said. “I’m not getting any younger, though. I’m 35 now and I’m at a stage in my career where I need to take a position whether to keep playing or now.”
But the down time has at least allowed him to spend more time with his almost six-year-old son, Xavier, and wife, Vivian.
That’s another motivating factor, though.
“My son, he doesn’t like baseball,” Gutierrez laughed. “He gets bored too quick. He likes soccer. But he does like to see me play. Can you imagine how much that hurts my heart? That’s why I want to keep trying, just for him to see me play.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais coached Gutierrez for one season, when he hit .246 with a .329 on-base percentage a d 14 home runs over 98 games in 2016.
He was told about Gutierez’s will to keep playing.
“I don’t get involved in that,” Servais said. “I love Guti, he’s one of my favorites. But I don’t get involved in that.”
Hisashi Iwakuma pitched his third rehabilitation outing with short-season Single-A Everett in their playoff game on Wednesday.
It wasn’t encouraging. He allowed three runs on four hits with three walks in two innings (47 pitches).
That was after he had allowed one run and two hits with a walk over his previous three innings (two starts) with Everett.
But what’s next for the 37-year-old is to be determined, Servais said.
“He would love to get in a game at some point,” Servais said. “But we haven’t talked about it.
“He was OK. His stuff was OK. It’s been a long time since he’s pitched so the expectations were realistic. His velo was low but he’s not going to blow you away with velo anyway. It’s pitchability.”
Iwakuma has been on the disabled list all season after offseason arthroscopic surgery in his shoulder. He hasn’t pitched a big-league game since May 3, 2017.
Servais said the Mariners are going to give some of their September roster call ups some extended looks over the final three weeks of the season.
Seattle entered Saturday trailing the Oakland Athletics by 6½ games in the American League’s race for the final wild card with 21 games remaining. They aren’t mathematically eliminated but it’s getting bleak.
Servais said specifically they’d get recently acquisition, utility player Kristopher Negron a start sometime in the next few games, either in Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees or sometimes in the two-games series after that against the Padres.
“We’re going to try to find him a favorable matchup based on what he can bring,” Servais said. “Much like we’re doing with the bullpen guys, as well. Get guys longer looks, more looks and hopefully you find somebody with a hot hand and put somebody in a good spot going forward.”
The Mariners acquired Negron from the Diamondbacks on Aug. 30 in exchange for cash considerations.
Other players who hadn’t appeared in a game entering Sunday since the September call ups included right-hander Casey Lawrence, infielder Gordon Beckham and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach.
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (8-13, 5.55 ERA) starts for the Mariners at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia (7-6, 3.54 ERA). The game will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.