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February 29, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Franklin Gutierrez has partially torn pectoral; will start season on disabled list

Franklin Gutierrez won’t be playing for the Mariners when the season opens in Japan next month and at this rate, he’s unlikely to see any games in the month of April. That’s because the Mariners just revealed that Gutierrez has a partially torn right pectoral muscle and will need at least four weeks before resuming normal baseball activity.
That’s at least four weeks.
“At this point, we don’t know,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik told me moments ago. “Every body responds to things differently. We don’t know what he’ll be able to do and at this point, we’ll probably just ease him into things gradually.”
While Zduriencik won’t say it for the record, Gutierrez will essentially be starting spring training all over again once his team is already playing regular season games. That means conditioning his body again — remember, he can’t do any work to maintain all that upper body muscle he just put on — and then playing some minor league games to get into playing shape.
At this point, it would be a true test of his ability just to get on the field with the Mariners before May. Take a look back at last season when he was pulled out of camp with irritable bowel syndrome around this stage of it. Gutierrez wasn’t able to play in the majors until mid-May.

Who should play center field for the Mariners while Franklin Guiterrez is out?

Therefore, the competition for the center field job in Seattle is now officially wide open. Zduriencik told me the leading contenders to replace Gutierrez are Michael Saunders, Casper Wells and…Chone Figgins.
“Figgins played 244 games in the majors in center field, don’t forget,” Zduriencik said. “We just haven’t seen him do it here. And that’s what we’ll have to evaluate.”
If that were to happen, the odds of Kyle Seager making the team just got a whole lot brighter, since third base would be freed up.
But on a more realistic note, much of what happens will depend on one guy. That would be Saunders.
If he shows that his bat can be taken seriously again, he would have to be the leading candidate to start the year in center — just as he did last season. Saunders actually handled center very well. The problem was that he couldn’t hit. In very, very limited action down here, he has been hitting with his revamped approach and swing.
He’s also moved to a bigger bat in games. Talked with him today and he’s pleased so far, even though it’s only intrasquad action.
Believe me, if Saunders hits, he’ll be the center fielder. He’s the best full-time guy the team has at the position besides Gutierrez.
Wells would also make the team as an extra outfielder, getting multiple games per week in the corners and then spelling Saunders a couple of times in center.
That would be the preferred route for the team.
Figgins hasn’t played center for since 2006 for a reason. It isn’t his best spot. Nor is it for Wells. For Saunders, it just might be. Zduriencik said there are no plans “at this time” to go outside the organization. The team has a little more versatility and depth and plans to look at using that first.
So, really, this job is sitting there for Saunders to reach out and grab.
“We’re going to watch and see how it all plays out,” Zduriencik said. “We’ll see what these guys show us.”

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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