SEATTLE -- Franklin Gutierrez has missed more games than he's played over the past two seasons, so the questions are inevitable. Is he finally healthy? How's he feeling? Can he stay in one piece and solidify the Mariners outfield and provide a quality right-handed bat to what should be an improved offense in 2013? Ultimately, Gutierrez can only answer those questions by performing on the field. But as he heads toward Spring Training in just under two weeks, the 2010 Gold Glove center fielder is doing his best to assure everyone that he's ready to play after a strong December in the Venezuelan Winter League.
"That was my offseason, just to play winter ball for about a month," he said at last weekend's FanFest. "And I did pretty good. I just went to gain my confidence back and prove I can play almost every day again. So I'm very happy for that. Now I'm feeling good and getting ready to get to Spring Training and start working again. "It's not a secret, what's been happening the last couple years," Gutierrez said. "Now I'm just focusing on trying to stay healthy, obviously. I think winter ball really helped because I hadn't played like that in a long time." Gutierrez was in this same situation a year ago, of course, with everyone talking about what great condition he was in after playing just 92 games in 2011 due to a long bout with a digestive issue and then a season-ending oblique strain. But he immediately tore a pectoral muscle in Spring Training and missed the first 2 1/2 months of the season, then played just two weeks before going back on the disabled list with a concussion after being hit in the head by a pickoff throw at first base. That led to another two-month absence before he returned in late August, with his season limited to 40 games in which he hit .260 with four home runs and 17 RBIs. "I'm trying to keep all the bad things behind me," he said. "I don't want to think about anything bad right now. I'm just looking forward to helping my team. Obviously, there are some great additions and I'm very excited. I think we're ready to win right now, and I just want to be part of it." Trainer Rick Griffin said Gutierrez appears to be on the right track after hitting .349 (30-for-86) with 13 runs, six doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs in 22 games in Venezuela. "He's not having any issues of any kind," Griffin said. "Anything he's had in the last three years doesn't exist. He's going in with good frame of mind and we're just hoping everything works out. He's been snake bit the last three years, so hopefully this year we can get back to the way things were." While the Mariners discovered a strong alternative in center field last year with the emergence of Michael Saunders, manager Eric Wedge is hopeful Gutierrez can regain his former position and allow Saunders to fill one of the corner-outfield spots. That would give the Mariners a stronger defensive situation, with Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, Casper Wells and others vying for time in the other corner. Gutierrez, who turns 30 on Feb. 21, welcomes the arrival of some other established veterans. "These are a lot of good players," he said. "With the addition of Kendrys [Morales], Ibanez, Morse, you know the team looks a lot different from last year. I think the key for us is to try to stay healthy, try to play as a team and just play hard every day. That's what we're looking for. I think we're ready to win and I'm very excited about it."