By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
HOUSTON — The thought of Franklin Gutierrez playing back-to-back games to start the series with the Houston Astros was cut short when he didn’t finish the first game of the series on Monday.
Gutierrez injured himself while trying to make a diving catch on Chris Carter’s soft liner to center field in the fourth inning.
He wasn’t able to hang on to the ball after landing awkwardly. Mariners manager Eric Wedge and trainer Rob Nodine jogged out to Gutierrez, who stayed on the ground for a few moments, got up slowly and moved in noticeable pain.
The Mariners training staff said Gutierrez left the game with a strained right hamstring and will be re-evaluated today.
It was frustrating injury for the oft-injured Gutierrez, who just hours before talked frankly about the leg issues he has battled early this season.
Unlike the concussion, the pectoral strain or the irritable bowel syndrome that placed him on the disabled list for extended periods the last few seasons, Gutierrez has stayed on the Mariners active roster, which could change with the latest mishap. The problem for the Mariners is that Gutierrez is playing just a few days a week, and not everyday. Tightness and discomfort in his legs have forced manager Wedge to sit Gutierrez often. And it makes making a daily lineup difficult.
“I’m working on it,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve been having some issues with my legs. It’s not a secret. I’ve been working just to get better and trying to be in the lineup every day. Having a (Sunday) off obviously helps, so I feel better today.”
What had been a secret is the root of the leg problems because the discomfort was not consistently in one spot. But the Mariners training staff seems to have it figured out.
“I have some issues with my pelvis and I’m trying to fix it,” Gutierrez said. “Some days it’s the groin, some days the hamstrings. It’s different, but I’m working on it. I’m doing a lot of things just to get strong in that area and avoid any injury.”
The pain started in spring training and has never gone away. There are days where it feels better than others.
“It’s the first time I’ve had this,” Gutierrez said. “It just started in spring training. I don’t know why. I’ve never felt that before. I’m doing treatment and working on it and it seems like every day I’m a little better.”
Not being healthy wears on Gutierrez as much as does Mariners fans, who want to see him on the field. Gutierrez doesn’t want to be a part-time player.
“The last two-to-three years have been really tough on me and I’m trying to be positive and focus on the things I need to do to be on the field,” he said. “Nobody wants to be injured. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be an every-day player and be ready to play.”
Wedge said the plan for Gutierrez was to play Monday and Tuesday.
“We’ll see how he feels after the first game,” Wedge said.
Minute Maid Park in Houston is the only outfield in the majors that features a speed bump. Tal’s Hill is a hill in center field that leads up the wall 436 feet away from home plate. It’s one of the unique configurations of the playing field.
Gutierrez spent a fair amount of time during batting practice, navigating and studying the outfield and its odd features.
“I just want to have an idea if during the game a fly ball is hit there,” he said. “I want to know how to run down the ball.”
One thing he won’t have to deal with on Tal’s Hill is a fan getting in his way.
In Saturday night’s game in Texas, Gutierrez thought for certain he had a chance to make a highlight reel catch over the fence on a ball hit by the Rangers’ A.J. Pierzynski.
Gutierrez scaled the wall and reached out to snag the ball for an out only to have a fan grab it first.
“I was focused on the ball,” he said. “I didn’t know the guy was there. As soon as I climbed the wall and put my glove out, I felt like I hit something. As soon as I turned over, I realized the guy was there — jumping around because he caught the ball.”
Replays showed that Gutierrez had a good chance of catching the ball. He didn’t need to see replays to know it.
“I’m pretty sure I could have caught that ball,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t understand how they let those people come in there during the games. I got a little bit mad about it because I know I could have caught the ball there.”