ANAHEIM -- In the last two years, Franklin Gutierrez has learned how to deal with the ankylosing spondylitis nerve condition that hampers his hips and lower body. And the 33-year-old outfielder has also learned how to do more with fewer opportunities for the Mariners, maximizing his chances in limited playing time to remain a big part of his club's successes.
Gutierrez provided the go-ahead RBI single in a pinch-hit situation in the 10th inning of Friday's 5-2 win over the Angels, just the latest example of his maturation as a veteran player.
"It's always important to know your role," Gutierrez said. "And my role right now is playing against lefties. I have to be prepared for anything."
Preparation is key for the Venezuelan native now. He spends considerable time keeping his body loose, doing the required exercises and eating the right foods to allow him to continue competing at the Major League level.
His preparation was evident by his approach against Angels reliever Jose Alvarez when he strode to the plate with Ketel Marte on second and one out in the 10th on Friday to pinch-hit for Seth Smith as manager Scott Servais went to his right-handed bat on the bench.
"In that situation, I realized [Robinson] Cano was behind me so I knew he didn't want to throw any fastballs or anything over the plate," Gutierrez said. "He threw me a couple changeups and I said to myself, 'Just stay to the middle and look for a pitch you can handle.'"
In his younger days, Gutierrez was an everyday outfielder. He won a Gold Glove in center field for the Mariners in 2010, before injuries and his then-undiagnosed illness began eating away at his body and playing time.
But after sitting out '14, he returned last year with renewed strength and hit .292 with 15 homers in just 171 at-bats. Now he's platooning again with Smith in right field and waiting for whatever chances arise.
"It's really nice to have him come off the bench in those situations, a veteran guy that does handle left-handed pitching and I'm comfortable with him if they're going to flip and throw a righty in there as well," Servais said. "That's kind of how we're built, to keep him and Smitty back and forth and it's nice to have those guys in those spots."
Gutierrez was just 2-for-11 pinch-hitting last year, but one of those hits was a game-winning grand slam. This year, he's 3-for-6 with a walk and two RBIs in that situation. What has he learned about pinch-hitting as he's done it more?
"It's not easy at all," he said. "You have one at-bat to be ready for every pitch. It's important to know the pitcher you're going to face and the situation and just be ready. I just try not to think too much or pressure myself. Just make it simple. Stay to the middle, see the ball, put a good swing on it."
And how has he changed as a player over the years? Gutierrez keeps that simple as well.
"I think I'm better prepared right now," he said. "Much better mentally."
• Closer Steve Cishek and right-handed reliever Joel Peralta both pitched the last three games and Servais wasn't sure of their availability for Saturday's contest. Setup man Joaquin Benoit's status was also uncertain after taking Friday off to rest a shoulder that has been a little sore since Spring Training.
"It's a good thing when you win three in a row like that," Servais said. "But when they're really tight and you're using all your guys at the end, it catches up with you. That's why how deep you are is really key."
• With Felix Hernandez bumped back a day to Saturday after being sick with the flu on Friday, Servais said he'll keep the rotation in its new order going forward with Hernandez following Hisashi Iwakuma. That means Taijuan Walker, Nathan Karns and Iwakuma will pitch in the three-game series against the Astros in the upcoming homestand, beginning Monday. Hernandez will then face the Royals on Friday, followed by Wade Miley and Walker before the Mariners hit the road again.
• YouTube baseball comic Domingo Ayala, who lives in the Anaheim area, took early batting practice with the Mariners and was hanging with the team in the clubhouse prior to Saturday's game. Ayala, who spent a day with the Mariners in Spring Training, joked with reporters that he's "just waiting to pass my physical" before signing a big contract with the club.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.