PEORIA, Ariz. - One of the few positions Eric Wedge didn't feel he had to worry about coming into his first spring as Seattle Mariners manager was center field - not with Gold Glove winner Franklin Gutierrez in camp.
Now, less than a week before Seattle leaves spring training, center field is a question mark, and Gutierrez has been sidelined since last Saturday with a recurring stomach ailment.
“He’s had a tough spring,” Wedge said. “He’s behind.”
For the past week, the Mariners have had Gutierrez visit more doctors – and they’re still not certain what’s causing his issues.
“We’ve got to get Franklin to a place where he feels comfortable,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It’s bothering him, and we’re waiting for more test results. Franklin doesn’t feel strong.”
At what point must the team get him back on the field to avoid having him start the season on the disabled list?
“We’re rapidly approaching it,” Wedge said.
The Mariners will leave Arizona on Tuesday, play one last exhibition game on Wednesday in Los Angeles and then head to Oakland to start the new season April 1. It’s possible Gutierrez, 28, won’t be with them.
Tests taken two weeks ago indicated that Gutierrez had a “slow” digestive system, and Mariners team doctors recommended dietary changes. Whatever Gutierrez has done since, it hasn’t stopped the problem.
“We’ve got people looking at it, and Franklin has had more tests,” Zduriencik said. “We want to get a handle on this so it’s not an issue for Franklin, and we want to get him comfortable again.”
Gutierrez declined all interview requests Thursday. His frustration level must be palpable – he ended the 2010 season spending the final weekend on the bench with this same situation.
If he opens the season on the disabled list, who starts in center? The Mariners have two left-handed hitters with experience – Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans.
“Nobody compares to Gutierrez, but they’re both good athletes,” Wedge said.
Acquired in the 10-player trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mets in 2008, Gutierrez has blossomed in Seattle, and last season was more than golden in center field. He was perfect.
Gutierrez became the first outfielder in major league history to post a 1.000 fielding percentage with as many as 380 total chances – and he did it while handling 415 total chances. He’s been on the DL only once in his career, for a hamstring strain.