SEATTLE -- Franklin Gutierrez rejoined the Mariners on Wednesday and said he felt like a kid again after all the time he's missed.
The 2010 Gold Glove center fielder was activated off the disabled list for the first time this season after recovering from a torn pectoral muscle suffered early in Spring Training and then a bout with plantar fasciitis in his heel.
Gutierrez wasn't in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Padres, but he will start in center field on Thursday, according to manager Eric Wedge, with Michael Saunders shifting to left.
"I feel great. I feel happy," Gutierrez said. "Finally I'm back and healthy. I feel like the first time I got called up. It's so exciting to be here again."
Gutierrez also missed the final month of 2011, another injury-plagued season in which he played just 92 games, while also missing the first two months with a digestive disorder.
"He'll be our center fielder," Wedge said. "He's not going to play seven days a week. We're going to be careful with him. My goal is to keep him healthy, which he hasn't been able to do for a while. Obviously we feel very good about Michael out in center field as well, but Gut is one of the best center fielders in the game.
"Michael has been doing nothing but getting better out there as well. When they're both playing, Michael will be in left. And that is a pretty good outfield when you put those three guys out there [with Ichiro Suzuki]."
Gutierrez hit just .211 in 10 rehab games in Triple-A Tacoma, but said he's regaining his timing and is getting over the typical soreness felt during the start of Spring Training. Now he's just eager to play after so much time away. His last start at Safeco Field was on Sept. 1.
"I've been patient a long time," Gutierrez said. "Sometimes when this type of thing happens, it makes you stronger in your mind. That's the way it is and you have to keep going. So that's where I am right now. I'm very happy because I'm back with my team, seeing everybody, and hopefully I'll be on the field soon."
And when he is in the lineup Thursday?
"I think it's going to be very emotional because I don't remember the last time I was playing on a regular basis out there," Gutierrez said. "If I'm playing tomorrow, it's going to be a very special day for me."