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March 1, 2012 at 9:39 AM

Why Franklin Gutierrez won’t be back with Mariners until May

NOTE: I’ll be going on ESPN SportsCenter at noon to discuss the Mariners.

Several people emailed yesterday in a bit of a furor, demanding to know why I was already doubling the amount of time the Mariners say Franklin Gutierrez “will be out” with his partially torn right pectoral.
Part of the confusion centers around an understanding over just what it means when the Mariners say Gutierrez could resume normal baseball activities in four weeks. For one, it doesn’t mean he’ll be able to step out on a field and take on the Oakland Athletics in four weeks. Maybe if Gutierrez was playing for a company softball team. But not in the majors.
One of the more underappreciated aspects of Major League Baseball that I see with fans surrounds the kind of conditioning it takes to play the sport at its highest level. This isn’t meant as a shot at fans, who aren’t given much insight into the behind-the-scenes training these athletes must go through every day.
And that’s a big part of the confusion over why I’m saying Gutierrez isn’t coming back until at least early May.
There’s a reason baseball players go through seven weeks of spring training. Most of them arrive here in top physical shape and then use those additional weeks to get used to playing high level baseball again. To see those 95 mph heaters and make contact. To know where to throw the ball when a play is unfolding in front of them and baserunners are flying at top speed.
In Gutierrez’s case, he’s going to have to go through that all over again. And not until the end of this new month, at the very least.

Again, the Mariners have said Gutierrez can resume normal baseball activities in four weeks, which will be right around the time they finish playing Oakland in Japan and head back to Peoria for a bit before opening in Oakland the following week.
That doesn’t mean Gutierrez will begin spring training at that point.
No, it means, as Jack Zduriencik told me yesterday, that the team will slowly begin easing Gutierrez back into minimal physical tasks that involve baseball. They’ll try it out, see where he is and then take it from there.
In essence, his real spring training — where he would have been a couple of weeks ago — might not actually start until mid-April. Who knows? But under the very best case scenario, it likely won’t happen much before April 1.
And it will be the same as Gutierrez arriving in camp out of shape.
Don’t forget, he is now sidelined physically. The delicate nature of where the pectoral muscle is located — right in the chest area — makes it nearly impossible for him to do anything to maintain all that muscle he just put on his upper body. For those of you who work out at the local gym, take a couple of weeks off, then go in and do some bench pressing. See how much it hurts the next morning. As you know, you can work out until you drop for weeks on end, but the minute you take an extended breather, it takes a while to regain that strength you once had.
We’ll see how much cardio conditioning Gutierrez can do on a treadmill, or stationary bike or things like that. Again, that involves the legs, but it’s tough to do any serious cardio training without somehow exerting the muscles in your upper body. Depending on the limits that have been placed on Gutierrez, maintaining basic cardio conditioning is going to be difficult.
As for baseball conditioning, forget it.
One thing you miss as a fan unless you happen to be out here for spring training or watching some of our occasional videos is just how much conditioning goes on here during basic drills. Players are running all over the place, taking grounders or fly balls at full speed. They are doing sprint and agility drills as well. Remembering how to start and stop on a dime and use their explosiveness.
Gutierrez won’t be able to do any of that for four weeks. It involves too much pumping of the arms when you run and that will certainly impact any muscles near the chest. So, that part is out.
At the very best, you’re looking at Gutierrez beginning his spring training on April 1, arriving in camp in the same kind of shape as some 35-year-old who goes to the gym three times per week and does moderately heavy exercise.
Not what you usually expect from a guy showing up in a Major League Baseball camp ready to compete against some of the better athletes in the world, most of them in their 20s.
That’s the difference.
Last year, Gutierrez was slowed by irritable bowel syndrome, but at least got to play in six spring training games. Once sidelined, though, his conditioning suffered. He worked at it once cleared to return and built up his strength and stamina to the point where he returned to the club on May 19.
Last year, he dealt with a condition that sapped his strength, so it might have taken a bit longer. But this year, he’s had less time to get ready for baseball than last season and will be severely limited in physical activity for the next four weeks.
Again, the M’s have some of the top trainers out there, so you can be sure they’ll do all they can to maintain a degree of fitness for Gutierrez.
But there’s a world of difference between that and getting into “baseball shape” by running through the same drills everyone else is doing in spring training. So, you can expect that part of it to carry Gutierrez up until at least the middle or — more likely — the latter part of April.
And then, he’s got to play actual games. Not softball games, professional baseball matchups. Those will be minor league games so he can get used to higher level competition again. You’re looking at two more weeks at least with those, probably longer.
In other words, if Gutierrez can make it back to the team as early as he did last season, it will be a bit of a bonus.
You can’t just skip the entirety of spring training and then expect to be as ready as other players who’ve gone through the entire process — and do it in half the time.
Nope, starting spring training over truly means starting it over. If it takes everyone else seven weeks, then it’s pie-in-the-sky to expect Gutierrez to do it in two or three coming off a serious injury.
Hope that clears up any confusion out there. We’re not trying to be overly negative, just realistic when we say that anyone playing center for the M’s on Opening Day will likely be doing it for a long, long time.



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