Zduriencik keeping tabs on former Mariner Gutierrez

Zduriencik keeping tabs on former Mariner Gutierrez

SAN DIEGO -- Former Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run in his first at-bat in the Venezuelan Winter League on Monday as he began preparing for what could be a comeback attempt in Major League Baseball.

Gutierrez, 31, spent all of 2014 on the restricted list after telling the Mariners he wanted to sit out the season to deal with ongoing issues with an inflammatory nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis.

Gutierrez is now a free agent, and the Mariners have indicated some interest in his possible return on a Minor League deal, but general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday he's had no recent talks with the 2010 Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder.

Zduriencik said Monday at the Winter Meetings that the club had checked a day earlier and Gutierrez wasn't playing winter ball yet in Venezuela, as had been expected. But Gutierrez did get in the lineup for Leones del Caracas on Monday and ripped a two-run home run in his first at-bat, in the second inning of his debut against Aguilas del Zulia.

Gutierrez walked and scored in his second at-bat and wound up going 1-for-1 with two runs and two RBIs before being replaced in the seventh inning by Trayvon Robinson, another former Mariners outfielder who also a free agent after spending last season with the Dodgers' Triple-A club.

Gutierrez was able to play just 81 games between 2012-13 for Seattle due to a variety of injuries, many of which he later attributed to an illness that wasn't diagnosed until late in his final year with the Mariners as he played out a four-year, $19 million deal.

The Mariners offered to bring him back last year for $1 million, but he wound up sitting out the season while living in Florida.

"I have not talked to him myself," Zduriencik said. "I plan to, but I've not done that yet. He missed a whole year, so we'll see. I don't know where he is physically or mentally. The last time we talked last year, he was going to see how his whole off-year went and where he was at with his illness."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.