Franklin Gutierrez had a spring first today – a hit that wasn’t a homer. After launching his third round-tripper of the spring, a two-run liner into the bullpen behind left field off the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley in the third, Gutierrez “settled” for a two-run double his next time up.
“I’m not looking for homers,’’ Gutierrez said after the Mariners’ 9-5 win, their eighth straight. “I’m just seeing the ball well right now.”
What the Mariners are looking for is Gutierrez to stay healthy this season, which has been a struggle in recent years. Right now, he looks great, which is encouraging to manager Eric Wedge.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,’’ Wedge said. “Obviously, he’s an established hitter. He has a very professional approach up there, and he’s strong. It’s great to see him playing the way he’s playing right now.”
Gutierrez has been hitting out of the leadoff spot, which could be putting some thoughts into Wedge’s head. Dustin Ackley has been thought to be the likely leadoff hitter for the Mariners.
“We’ve been messing around with him up top for a little bit,’’ Wedge said. “We’ve had a few people up there. We’ll see how it plays out. I think the good thing about this particular year is we’re going to have more options, whether it be the top of the lineup or the middle of the order.”
Mike Zunino hit his first homer of the spring, giving them 20 in eight games.
”There is something going on in spring training,’’ Gutierrez said. “Everyone is hitting home runs. I’m just glad I’m putting up quality at-bats. That’s what I want to bring to the season. We have a long time til the start of the season, but I’m just working on having good at-bats right now.
“I know when my swing is good, not because I’m hitting homers. I’m not that type of guy. I know when I hit the ball hard my swing is there. Sometimes you hit the ball hard and it goes out. I’ve been lucky three times this spring so far.”
Starter Hisashi Iwakuma said he was satisfied with his two-inning stint, in which he yielded two hits and a run in the first inning, but struck out two in a smooth second.
“I thought I pitched well today,’’ he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I wasn’t trying anything new. I wanted to get ahead with my breaking pitches and finish off with my breaking pitches. I was able to do that.”
Besides Zunino, another young catcher, John Hicks, caught Wedge’s eye. Hicks, a fourth-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2011, had a single for his fourth hit in seven at-bats this spring. Hicks has also made a strong impression with his defense.
“John Hicks is an athlete,’’ Wedge said. “You have to love the way he plays, whether it’s at home plate, catching, or at the plate hitting, and particularly on the basepaths. He’s a heads up player, he’s a smart young man. He’s been very impressive in this camp so far.”
Jeremy Bonderman, coming back from a two-year layoff, gave up three hits and two runs in two innings, but Wedge thought he made progress.
“He looked good too. I thought he caught up with his breaking ball today, which is a big thing. He’s been down (in the strike zone) all spring. Hee’s had good life on his sinker, on his fastball. I thought it was another step for him today.”