Veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez got the word early Wednesday morning that he was headed back to the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners.
His first reaction?
“Oh, my God,” he said. “It really is a blessing for me. I feel like I’ve been working pretty hard to get here again. You know, early in the year, I saw myself out of baseball.
“That’s why it’s a huge accomplishment for me to be here again.”
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Gutierrez’s return represents a notable personal victory over debilitating gastrointestinal issues that forced him to sit out all of last year and placed his once-successful career in jeopardy.
The Mariners selected Gutierrez’s contract from Triple-A Tacoma after clearing space by optioning outfielder James Jones back to the Rainiers after a 10-day stay.
“We’re getting ready to face a lot of left-handers,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You have an opportunity to manipulate your roster and bring pieces in that can help you at certain times.
“I think it’s just the right thing to do.”
Gutierrez, 32, returns after batting .317 in 48 games for the Rainiers with seven homers and 31 RBIs. He compiled a .402 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.
“The reports are he was having good at-bats,” McClendon said. “Quality at-bats. Deep into counts. Very professional hitter. We certainly felt he could help us at this level against left-handers.”
Jones, 26, heads back to Tacoma after going hitless in eight at-bats over seven games following his June 15 recall.
Gutierrez started in left field and batted second in Wednesday’s series finale against Kansas City at Safeco Field. Long viewed as a premier defensive center fielder, he now contends he is a better fit in left field.
“I don’t think I’m able to play center field, obviously,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a very demanding position. I found myself playing well on the corners (at Tacoma). That’s where I’m able to play.”
Gutierrez played nine major league seasons, including five with the Mariners, before mounting problems associated with ankylosing spondylitis severely limited his availability and forced him to miss all of last season.
While Gutierrez isn’t yet free from the ailment, he managed to play regularly in Tacoma. He characterized the problem, when it surfaces, as an “achiness in the joints.”
Even he doesn’t know whether he can play regularly at the big league level.
“I’ve been battling through it,” Gutierrez said, “by doing a lot of stretching and taking some supplements that have helped me. I feel a lot better. Some days, I’m not really good, but I’ve been able to play.”
The Mariners must be fairly confident Gutierrez can hold up. Now that he’s back on a big league roster, he has too much service time to be sent back to the minors.
“I told him that I need him to be honest with me,” McClendon said. “When he can play, he can play. When he can’t, he can’t. No different than any other player.”
Gutierrez is optimistic.
“I feel better,” he said. “I feel a lot better. I’ve been working down there in Tacoma. I’ve been alternating between DHing and playing left field. Some days, I’m not really good, but I’ve been able to play.
“It’s just part of the game. Some days, you’re going to feel good. Some days, you’re not, but you’re still able to play.
The Mariners first acquired Gutierrez on Dec. 11, 2008 from Cleveland as part of a three-team deal that included the New York Mets. He has a .256 career average in 762 games with 67 homers and 279 RBIs.
Gutierrez played 305 games in 2009-10 before a series of injuries and ailments limited him to just 173 in 2011-13.
Were there times when he wondered whether he’d ever make it back?
“The key for me this year was not to think about it,” Gutierrez said. “I was focusing on trying to get back in baseball, trying to play as much as I can down there. Just let them make the decision.
“The decision was now, and I’m happy to be here again.”
IWAKUMA AT TACOMA
Rehabbing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is slotted to throw 75 pitches over five six innings Thursday, when he continues his minor league rehab assignment by starting for Triple-A Tacoma against Reno (Diamondbacks).
Iwakuma, 34, suffered a strained back muscle (right latissimus dorsi) in an April 21 throwing workout after pitching 51/3 innings the previous day in a 7-5 loss to Houston.
Iwakuma pitched 32/3 innings last Saturday for Short-A Everett in a 10-4 victory over Eugene. He gave up one run and three hits while striking out three and not walking a batter.
Tentative plans call for Iwakuma to make at least one more rehab start before rejoining the Mariners’ rotation. That is likely to be June 30 for the Rainiers against Las Vegas (Mets) at Cheney Stadium.
Barring setbacks, that puts Iwakuma in line to start July 5 at Oakland.
Iwakuma was 0-1 with a 6.61 ERA this season in three starts prior to his injury. He was a combined 38-20 with a 3.07 ERA over the three previous seasons.
Lefty James Paxton expects to start playing catch Friday as the first pitching-related activity in his recovery from a strained middle finger that surfaced in a May 28 start against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
Paxton said his finger is nearly free of discomfort.
Even so, he isn’t likely to return to the rotation before early August under a normal rehab progression of playing catch, long toss, bullpen workouts and a simulated game or two before departing on a rehab assignment.
Paxton was 3-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 10 starts prior to his injury.
Right-hander Nick Neidert, the club’s top pick in the recent draft, opened his pro career Tuesday by pitching two scoreless innings for Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League against the White Sox in Glendale, Ariz.
Neidert, 18, gave up two hits but didn’t walk anyone and struck out one. (Side note: It was 105 degrees when the game started.) The Mariners selected Neidert with the 60th overall pick in the draft.
• Left-hander Luiz Gohara, 18, has yet to allow an earned run in 12 innings over two starts for Short-A Everett after holding Spokane (Indians) to one unearned run in Tuesday’s 4-3 road victory.
Gohara also didn’t allow an earned run over five innings in a May 29 start for Lo-A Clinton at Cedar Rapids (Twins). Overall, he has permitted two unearned runs and nine hits in 17 innings with 18 strikeouts and five walks.
The Mariners signed Gohara, a Brazilian, in 2012 as a nondrafted free agent. He entered the season ranked No. 8 on The News Tribune’s Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects.
The Mariners had five minor league players take part in all-star games on Tuesday:
• Jackson lefty swingman James Gillheeney retired the only batter he faced in the North Division’s 9-0 romp in the Southern League All-Star Game in Montgomery, Ala. Outfielder Jabari Blash was hitless in four at-bats.
• Bakersfield lefty reliever Paul Fry worked around a two-out double by recording two strikeouts for the Advanced-A California League League in it’s 9-2 victory over the Carolina League in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
• Clinton right-hander Lukas Schiraldi gave up one unearned run and struck out two in his only inning for the West Division in a 5-0 loss in the Midwest League All-Star Game in Peoria, Illinois. Outfielder Estarlyn Morales was 0 for 2 with a walk.
It was three years ago Thursday — June 25, 2012 — that then-rookie Erasmo Ramirez registered 10 strikeouts in a 1-0 loss at Oakland.
Ramirez became the eighth different Mariners rookie to get 10 or more strikeouts in game. (Mike Montgomery became the 11th rookie to do it Tuesday in a 7-0 victory over Kansas City).
The only run against Ramirez came on a Seth Smith homer in the second inning.
Outfielder Gutierrez received No. 30 upon returning from Tacoma. His old No. 21 currently belongs to manager Lloyd McClendon. … Mike Montgomery, on Tuesday, became the first rookie in Mariners history to record 10 or more strikeouts in a complete-game shutout without allowing a walk. The only other rookie to have 10 or more strikeouts in a shutout was Freddy Garcia, who had 12 on Aug. 24, 1999 in a 5-0 victory over Detroit at Safeco Field. He had one walk. … Kansas City activated left-hander Danny Duffy, who started Wednesday, from the disabled list before the game after optioning right-handed reliever Michael Mariot to Triple-A Omaha.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday — only their second one since May 18 — before opening a nine-game trip Friday with the first of three weekend games against the Angels in Anaheim, California. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (5-6, 4.94 ERA) will face Angels right-hander Garrett Richards (7-5, 3.66) in the opener.