Baseball

Guillen, past are welcome

PEORIA, Ariz. - Jose Guillen is smiling a lot these days.

Is this the same brooding slugger that eight organizations have waved away in the last eight years? Is this the same guy who threw three bats through a clubhouse wall in Cincinnati and screamed at his manager so vociferously in 2004 that he got kicked off the then-Anaheim Angels - with one week left in a pennant race?

Yes, this is exactly the Guillen the Seattle Mariners are counting on to help perk up a franchise with three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West.

"He's not a bad guy - yet," manager Mike Hargrove said, before quickly striking the "yet."

Then again, it's only March.

"He's certainly not afraid to speak his mind," Hargrove said. "I've never been afraid of those kinds of guys. I find it sort of refreshing."

So, one month before the long season begins, all is well for Guillen and the Mariners. His stroke has been so effortless and lightning quick, Hargrove calls Guillen's "the most pure swing" of the 62 Mariners in camp. And yes, three-time major league hits leader Ichiro Suzuki is still here.

Even Guillen's reconstructed throwing elbow is doing well, following ligament-replacement surgery that ended his season with Washington last July. He extended his throwing range to 140 feet on Wednesday and said the plan is for him to be in right field for exhibition games in late March. Until then, he will be a designated hitter, starting today in a charity exhibition against San Diego.

"The ball is just jumping out of my arm. It's so scary," Guillen said.

But it's his bat that has him in Seattle for at least this season, with a $9 million mutual option for 2008. The bat was what seduced the Pirates into promoting him from Class-A to become their right fielder to begin 1997.

He had a career-high 31 home runs with Cincinnati and Oakland in 2003, a career-best 104 RBIs for Anaheim the following year and 24 more home runs for Washington in '05. His '06 season was lost after just 69 games.

Guillen, of course, wants to put his past injuries, suspensions and fines behind him.

"When they put a tag on you, they don't take it off if you change," he said. "I know people say, 'Oh, he's a troublemaker.' You know, I've never been that. People just can't handle the truth. I don't have a problem speaking up and telling people the truth about them."

But he also acknowledges his past fuels him.

He said he threw three bats into the clubhouse wall with the Reds in June 2003 because manager Bob Boone reneged on a promise to start him. Cincinnati traded him to Oakland the following month.

"If you tell me the truth, I'm the nicest guy in the world," Guillen said, with yet another smile.

New Mariners reliever Chris Reitsma was Guillen's teammate in Cincinnati over the last month of the 2002 season and again in '03.

"He was really pretty harmless over there," Reitsma said. "People like to talk about nothing.

"I'm looking forward to what he can do - because when he's healthy, he's pretty darn good."

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