SEATTLE — Mariners manager Eric Wedge’s 13th lineup card of the young season contained a familiar twist Saturday night: The name of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, dealing with tightness in his right groin, was not on it.
Gutierrez’s ailment was the latest development in what has been a tough week for Mariners outfielders. Michael Saunders sprained his right shoulder crashing into the wall Tuesday, two nights before a pitch hit Michael Morse on the right hand and broke his pinky finger.
With Saunders on the 15-day disabled list and Morse expected to miss the remainder of the homestand, Wedge wanted to exercise caution with Gutierrez.
“We have just one extra outfielder, and we can’t take a chance on starting him, losing him and then being without anybody,” Wedge said before the Mariners’ game against the Texas Rangers. “He’ll continue to get worked on and hopefully be back in there tomorrow.”
Gutierrez’s groin tightness became a minor issue during spring training, and he’s been done no favors by the April cold snap in Seattle. Scheduled for a night off to recover Friday, Gutierrez was called on to pinch-hit for Raul Ibañez in the eighth inning.
“He’s been feeling it for a couple days,” said Wedge, “and I don’t think it helped him going up the wall the other day. That might have aggravated it a little more.”
Gutierrez is off to a strong start. He began Saturday with a team-leading 10 RBI and was second in home runs, with four — three as a leadoff hitter, most by any leadoff man this season in the major leagues.
But any discussion of Gutierrez begins and ends with his inability to stay healthy. He’s been placed on the DL four times since 2011, missing 192 of 336 games.
“You’ve seen the history,” Wedge said. “I just try to manage it the best I can. That’s why you give him periodic days off. It’s what I did all spring and what I’ll continue to do.”
With Saunders unavailable and Morse and Gutierrez hurting, the Mariners were left with utility infielder Robert Andino as their only reserve outfielder behind starters Ibanez, Endy Chavez and Jason Bay. Andino has appeared in 16 big league games as an outfielder, including two last season with the Baltimore Orioles.
Behind the plate
For the second time in two nights, backup catcher Kelly Shoppach was behind the plate for the Mariners, and starter Jesus Montero was on the bench.
“Montero has caught a lot here early on,” Wedge said, “so we decided to give him back-to-back off days.”
But the manager also had taken notice of Shoppach’s production in limited duty: He was 6-for-12 with 10 total bases after Friday. Montero, meanwhile, was 6-for-34, with seven total bases.
Right-handed starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who celebrated his 32nd birthday Friday with a victory that improved his record to 2-0, has yet to give up a walk in the 18 innings he’s pitched. It’s the second-best season-opening string in Mariners history, behind Cliff Lee’s 221/3 innings without allowing a walk in 2010.
During a professional career that began with Kintetsu of the Japan League in 2001, Iwakuma never has walked as many as 50 hitters in a season.
John McGrath, The News Tribune