Guti's impressive power surge continues

Guti's impressive power surge continues

ARLINGTON -- Franklin Gutierrez continued making his case as one of baseball's Comeback Player of the Year candidates this season, as the Mariners' outfielder slugged his 14th home run in just 142 at-bats, providing one of the only bright spots in Saturday's 10-1 loss to the Rangers.

Gutierrez, who sat out all of the 2014 season while dealing with an arthritic nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis, has put up an amazing .317/.368/.683 line in 49 games since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma three months ago.

His .683 slugging percentage is the highest of any Major Leaguer with more than 125 plate appearances, well above even the .586 mark of teammate Nelson Cruz, who is tied for the MLB lead in home runs with Baltimore's Chris Davis at 42.

Gutierrez's rate of one homer every 10.14 at-bats is the best in Mariners history for anyone with 10 or more homers in a season, with the previous best being Ken Griffey Jr.'s 10.83 in 1994.

The ability to show people he can still play the game is welcome for the 2010 Gold Glove center fielder, who missed most of the 2012-13 seasons as well with injury issues.

"It's been very important," Gutierrez said. "Every time I'm going up there trying to help my team and way I can. Obviously I'm not thinking about hitting any homers. I'm just trying to put a good swing on and I'm hitting the ball pretty good."

He hit another one well off Cole Hamels in the second inning Saturday, driving a full-count changeup over the center field wall on a blast projected by Statcast™ to land 408 feet away from home plate.

"Normally on 3-2 you're looking to stay back and make contact," he said. "I wasn't looking for any pitch, I just saw one right there and was swinging."

Gutierrez said he wants to finish this season strong before he decides whether he'll play winter ball this offseason in his native Venezuela. The impending free agent said he'd love to stay with the Mariners, but said that remains to be seen.

For now, he's just enjoying the chance to play when he can. He's no longer the defensive wizard of years past, limited to left-field duties to protect his legs. But he's hitting better than he did in his younger days, when he set a career high with 18 homers while batting .283 with a .425 slugging percentage in 153 games in 2009.

"I'm happy with the season I'm having and just moving forward to do what I'm doing next year," he said.

Gutierrez has hit .391 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in his last 15 games, but continues to be used primarily against left-handed pitchers in a platoon situation in order to keep him healthy.

"He's having a good year," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's a good hitter."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.