Gutierrez will get time in right field in Tacoma
Franklin Gutierrez played designated hitter on Friday for the second straight time in his injury rehab stint for Tacoma, but the Mariners want him to get work in right field during his time in Triple-A in order to provide more options for when he returns from a strained hamstring.
Gutierrez is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as he’s ready now, but manager Eric Wedge said he’s not going to just keep doing the same thing with the injury-plagued outfielder and one of the changes will be getting him ready for more than just his normal center-field duties.
“We want him to play some right field as well as center, for a couple reasons,” Wedge said. “One, I think it’s easier to stay healthy if you’re playing left or right field versus center field. Two, Michael Saunders has been great in center field. And three, if he’s not 100 percent, then we’re better off with him in right field.
“Now if he’s the Guti of old, 100 percent, then of course you want him in center field. But he just hasn’t proven he can do that. So we’re going to give him some time down there to work things out. We DH’d him last night just because of the weather conditions, but we want him to play both.”
Saunders has played very well in center and Wedge is very comfortable keeping him there. But he’d be glad to have a fully healthy Gutierrez there if that is possible.
Wedge said Saunders is the better center fielder right now “if Guti’s not 100 percent. But if Guti’s 100 percent, I don’t think there’s anybody better.”
Getting Gutierrez healthy has long been the issue, however. He’s now on his fifth disabled list stint in the past three seasons. He’s played just 148 games in those three seasons while missing 218. So Wedge wants to see something different during this rehab stint before he returns.
The Mariners have 20 days to make that decision.
“I’m going to work off him,” Wedge said of a possible return date. “But like I told him, I need him not to just be able to play up here, but be able to play every day, steal a base and do some things. Otherwise we’re just going to end up back where we are right now. I want to give it some time.”
The tough part for the Mariners is when they bring Gutierrez back, they’ll need to make a roster decision. They can’t carry six outfielders, so someone will have to go at that time and Endy Chavez seems the likely man out unless there’s an injury in the meantime.
But sending Chavez down would mean exposing him to waivers and someone could claim him, given he’s played pretty well. But the Mariners will face that decision when it comes. For now, they just push ahead with Saunders in center and Gutierrez in Tacoma.
Saunders has started 15 straight games since returning from a sprained shoulder and has struggled on the current road trip, going 2-for-19 in the first four games. So Wedge gave him Saturday off and had Chavez in center, with Saunders expected back Sunday.
Michael Morse was also back on Saturday, recovered from an eye irritation caused by a contact lens problem before Friday’s game.
Here’s the full lineups: