OAKLAND, Calif. – A trying season for Franklin Gutierrez that was initially delayed by a mysterious stomach ailment has now ended with a freak injury.
Gutierrez had been coming on at the plate in recent weeks for the first time all season as he tried to build momentum heading in to 2012. But it all came to a painful halt Sunday in the eighth inning of an 8-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics when Gutierrez swung at a pitch and missed.
He immediately clutched at his side and had to be helped off the field in what was later diagnosed as a severe oblique strain – an injury that can take months to heal. Coupled with an earlier injury to Casper Wells, now day to day with a bruised elbow after being hit by a pitch, the Mariners will likely have to call up one or more outfielders from Triple-A Tacoma for tonight’s game in Anaheim.
“It’s been a tough go for him, really back to last year,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He fought through it and got back on the field, was playing every day for us and starting to be productive. We put him up in that two-hole (in the batting order) hoping that he would respond to it and he’s handled it well in-between the lefties up there.”
Gutierrez missed the first six weeks of the season and most of spring training with a stomach ailment later diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. He hasn’t hit a home run since late May and had floundered at the plate until an August resurgence in which he hit .295 with seven doubles.
Wedge said he liked what he saw from his center fielder and hopes the August run gives him confidence heading into the winter.
The Mariners were already headed to a series sweep at the hands of the Athletics in front of 19,384 fans at the Coliseum when the injury occurred. Seattle was down 8-3 in the eighth when a Luis Rodriguez single brought in two runs.
There were two on and two out when Gutierrez got hurt. Adam Kennedy finished the at-bat with the count at 1-2 and went down swinging.
But the Mariners, despite the score, weren’t really in it for most of the day as Hideki Matsui went to town for three doubles, all a foot or so of clearing fences for home runs. Blake Beavan walked three batters the first two innings and was done after throwing 101 pitches in five innings.
The fifth inning proved costly to Seattle when catcher Miguel Olivo dropped a Trayvon Robinson throw home on a single that could have ended the frame with the Mariners trailing just 2-1. Instead, the one-hopper popped out of Olivo’s glove, allowing Matsui to score.
A Brandon Allen double made it a 4-1 game.
Dustin Ackley got the Mariners to 4-3 with a two-run homer to right in the seventh inning off newly-installed reliever Brian Fuentes. Up to that point, the Mariners had scored just one run in their previous 22 innings.
But Josh Lueke walked the first batter he faced in the bottom of the seventh, gave up another Matsui double and then a Josh Willingham sacrifice fly to make it 5-3. With runners at second and third and two out, Ryan Sweeney lined one down the left field line.
Robinson sprinted in on it and dove for the ball – trying to save a crucial run – but missed. The ball rolled to the wall for a triple that scored two runs and a Lueke wild pitch brought another run in to pretty much end the game.
“You have to dive for it,” Robinson said. “There were two outs. I wanted to be aggressive out there and cut down the extra-base hit. With two outs like that in a close game … you have to lay out for that ball.”
Wedge agreed with that assessment, especially given the score and the lateness of the game for a Seattle squad hard-pressed to score at the best of times. He plans to use Robinson in center for now and figures Wells can play there some as well once he comes back from his latest injury.
“It’s still pretty stiff,” Wells said, adding he might need a day or two.
Wells had the elbow in a bandage, but showed off a cellular telephone photo he had taken of the bruised area – where the ball’s stitching could be seen embedded in his skin.
The Mariners have Michael Saunders and Greg Halman in Triple-A and both have played center field for the Mariners this season. With the Triple-A season ending today, the team is likely to bring one or both up so it at least has some insurance in the event of a further injury to Robinson or Wells.
Chone Figgins was also activated off the disabled list and has played the outfield in the majors.
“We do have options,” Wedge said.