Healthy Gutierrez impresses Mariners with power

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Franklin Gutierrez is known more for his glove than his home run power, but the Mariners center fielder had everyone talking with Tuesday's blast over the batter's eye in center field at Maryvale Stadium.

Any question of Gutierrez's strength this spring was answered with the two-run shot off Brewers No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo. The bolt carried at least 450 feet, given it sailed over the 30-foot high barrier that sits behind the 400-foot center-field fence.

"What people don't realize is that in that stadium, the batter's eye is 20 feet or so behind the wall," said Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders. "So that's impressive. And it was off a pretty good pitcher, too. That's a good sign.

"Obviously everybody knows what he brings to the table defensively," said Saunders. "And he can be a pretty potent offensive threat, too. We need him in our lineup. That's really good to see."

Gutierrez has hit just five home runs over the past two injury-plagued seasons, but did hit 18 long balls in 2009 and 12 in 2010. But, no, none of them have rivaled the ball he smoked Tuesday.

"I don't know what to say," said Gutierrez. "I just hit that ball good. That's the best I can hit. That's the longest homer of my life. Sometimes you just hit the ball really good."

Gutierrez surprised even himself when he cleared the batter's eye, which Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said is something that rarely even happens in batting practice at that stadium.

"To be honest, I knew I hit it good, but I didn't think the ball was over that wall," Gutierrez said. "I realized when I was running around my first base, 'Oh my God.' I impressed myself on that one."

The Mariners are just looking for Gutierrez to stay healthy after he played only 40 games last year and 92 in 2011.

"He's seeing the ball well, he's strong and in great shape," manager Eric Wedge said. "He looks good here early on. He is stronger. He's done a nice job getting his body in a place where it's very playable, yet strong on top of that. He looks good."

Gutierrez isn't the only Mariner muscling up early. Justin Smoak hit a ball that might have traveled just as far on Tuesday, his second homer of the year sailing over the right-field berm in Maryvale. On Monday, Alex Liddi uncorked what Wedge said was one of the furthest home runs he's seen in his three years now in Peoria.

"Maybe," said Gutierrez, "we need to save these home runs for the season."