Gutierrez’s performance encouraging to M’s manager Wedge

PEORIA, Ariz. — If Franklin Gutierrez can stay healthy this season, the Seattle Mariners would be ecstatic.

So far this spring, he’s been giving a glimpse of what they’ve been missing in recent seasons when Gutierrez battled injuries and illness.

Saturday, Gutierrez drove in four runs as the Mariners increased their winning streak to eight games, tied for the franchise’s longest ever in spring training. The 1993 Mariners also won eight in a row in Lou Piniella’s first spring.

Gutierrez had a spring first Saturday — a hit that wasn’t a homer.

After launching his third round-tripper of the spring, a two-run liner into the bullpen behind left field off the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley in the third inning, Gutierrez “settled” for a two-run double his next time up.

“I’m not looking for homers,” Gutierrez said. “I’m just seeing the ball well right now.”

Gutierrez’s performance is encouraging to manager Eric Wedge, who watched him look great early in camp last year only to get dragged down with a pulled pectoral muscle.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Wedge said. “Obviously, he’s an established hitter. He has a very professional approach up there, and he’s strong. It’s great to see him playing the way he’s playing right now.”

Gutierrez has been hitting out of the leadoff spot, which could be putting some thoughts into Wedge’s head. Dustin Ackley has been thought to be the likely leadoff hitter.

“We’ve been messing around with him up top for a little bit,” Wedge said. “We’ve had a few people up there. We’ll see how it plays out. I think the good thing about this particular year is we’re going to have more options, whether it be the top of the lineup or the middle of the order.”

Felix to throw

another live session

Pitching coach Carl Willis said Felix Hernandez will throw his second live session Sunday. Willis called it a “batting practice slash simulated game” and said it will be “a little more intense than the other day, and the other day was really good.”

Willis added that “if all is well,” Hernandez will make his first spring start Thursday, when the Mariners have split-squad games against Oakland and Kansas City. Hernandez is likely to face the Royals.

Willis said he doesn’t foresee any problem with Hernandez being ready for his opening day start on April 1 in Oakland.

“Really, his timetable, everyone is under the impression he’s behind,” Willis said. “We started games on Feb. 22; he didn’t need to start that soon. He’ll be at 95 to 100 pitches by the time we get out of camp. We still have the time to make that happen. He’s basically on the same schedule he’s been on, not necessarily last year because of the Japan trip, but the previous two springs. It’s the same timetable.”

NOTES and quotes

— Starter Hisashi Iwakuma said he was satisfied with his two inning stint, in which he yielded two hits and a run in the first inning, but struck out two in a smooth second.

“I thought I pitched well today,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I wasn’t trying anything new. I wanted to get ahead with my breaking pitches and finish off with my breaking pitches. I was able to do that.”

— Mike Zunino hit his first homer of the spring, and another young catcher, John Hicks, caught Wedge’s eye. Hicks, a fourth-round choice out of the University of Virginia in 2011, had a single for his fourth hit in seven at-bats. Hicks also has made a strong impression with his defense.

“John Hicks is an athlete,” Wedge said. “You have to love the way he plays, whether it’s at home plate, catching, or at the plate hitting, and particularly on the basepaths. He’s a heads up player, he’s a smart young man. He’s been very impressive in this camp so far.”

— Jeremy Bonderman, coming back from a two-year layoff, gave up three hits and two runs in two innings, but Wedge thought he made progress.

“He looked good too. I thought he caught up with his breaking ball today, which is a big thing. He’s been down (in the strike zone) all spring. He’s had good life on his sinker, on his fastball. I thought it was another step for him today.”


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