Sturdier Gutierrez appears ready to impress

Sturdier Gutierrez appears ready to impress

Sturdier Gutierrez appears ready to impress
SEATTLE -- The Mariners trotted out newly acquired catcher Jesus Montero and returning outfielders Mike Carp and Michael Saunders at their annual pre-Spring Training media luncheon Thursday. They had manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik give their thoughts and trainer Rick Griffin fill in the latest health news.

But the overriding storyline of the day seemed to belong to a player who wasn't even present, with glowing reports issued from all sides on Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

Gutierrez was one of nine players who came to Seattle two weeks ago to visit Wedge and show where they were at physically about a month prior to camp. And by all accounts, the man who battled significant health and strength problems in 2011 appears poised for a bounce-back season after putting on 15 pounds of muscle.

"He looked great," said Wedge, who first managed Gutierrez in Cleveland before the Indians traded him to Seattle in 2009. "He's as strong as I've ever seen him. He was on the path when we traded him over here, and he came over and had a good year. He's had a lot of things go wrong since then -- physically, mentally, everything.

"I said, 'You know what? You're not allowed to do that anymore. You have to get back on the path. I don't care about being sick or this or that. You need to get back on the path. Go home [to Venezuela], do what you're supposed to do, and come back and be the player you should be.'

"And he looked great," Wedge said. "I mean, you'll be shocked when you see him. He's strong, he's got a twinkle in his eye and I expect great things from him. I really do."

Gutierrez, 28, suffered from stomach issues that eventually were diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome last season. But he missed most of Spring Training and opened the year on the disabled list, eventually hitting a career-low .224 with just a .273 slugging percentage in 92 games before pulling an oblique muscle in September and ending his year back on the DL.

The same stomach issues hampered him the second half of 2010, when he finished with a .245 average but still won his first Gold Glove Award. But the Mariners are hoping to see a return to the Gutierrez of '09, when he batted .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs with a .425 slugging percentage.

Griffin said the 6-foot-2 Gutierrez was down to 183 pounds at the end of last season, but tipped the scale at 197 two weeks ago.

"Everything he put on was muscle," said Griffin. "He looks unbelievable -- the best he's looked in two years. He impressed everybody with his agility and strength. He's not having any issues at all with the stomach."

Griffin said a lot of dealing with irritable bowel syndrome is learning which foods a person can eat without suffering problems and that Gutierrez is now better educated on that process.

"For him to not have any of those issues and be able to work out all offseason, it's huge," Griffin said. "He couldn't eat or lift weights last year. But he's gone 10 months now with no issues. He's not having any problems. That's the biggest and best news of the offseason."