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Guti has eyes on comeback for '19 season

Former Mariners outfielder plans to play winter ball in Venezuela
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- One of baseball's many unwritten rules: Don't talk to a starting pitcher on the day he's pitching. But that rule didn't apply to Franklin Gutierrez during his visit to Safeco Field.

"And here is my best friend right here, Felix Hernandez," Gutierrez said as he embraced the Mariners' starter for Saturday night's matchup with the Yankees. "He's gonna win today."

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SEATTLE -- One of baseball's many unwritten rules: Don't talk to a starting pitcher on the day he's pitching. But that rule didn't apply to Franklin Gutierrez during his visit to Safeco Field.

"And here is my best friend right here, Felix Hernandez," Gutierrez said as he embraced the Mariners' starter for Saturday night's matchup with the Yankees. "He's gonna win today."

View Full Game Coverage

Gutierrez returned to the stadium he called home for seven of his 12 MLB seasons to throw out the first pitch as part of the Mariners' Salute to Latin American Béisbol Night, but first announced that he'll be playing winter ball in Venezuela for Leones del Caracas and attempting a big league comeback. The outfielder played in 35 games for the Dodgers last season, but has been spending 2018 with his wife and 5-year-old son in Florida.

"This year, it was a little tough finding a job, so I just decided to stay home and do things I had never done before, like taking my son to school or spending a lot of time with my wife," Gutierrez said. "If I'm going to retire, I'm going to retire on my own terms. That's why I'm doing this."

Gutierrez said he has been trying to stay in shape, all the while battling a rare inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis. The incurable condition forced him to sit out the 2014 season and sent him to the disabled list in '17. He hasn't played since.

"It causes a lot of pain in my body, a lot of inflammation in my body," Gutierrez said. "I've been able to control that with medication, with food, eating much better and having good rest, that's important for me. I'm not getting any younger. I'm 35 right now, and I'm at the stage of my career where I need to make those decisions, to continue or just let it go."

The decision to attempt a comeback in 2019 will depend on how things go in Venezuela. Gutierrez said that if everything goes well and his body responds the right way, he'll continue to play. If not, he'll shut it down.

Gutierrez also said starting up a coaching career has crossed his mind, since he understands there's a chance he won't feel well enough to keep competing. He expressed specific interest in coming to coach with the Mariners, but thanks to some motivation from his son, Xavier, the focus right now is on returning to baseball as an outfielder.

"He doesn't like baseball, but he likes to see me playing," Gutierrez said. "He told me the other day, 'Papa, when are you gonna play?' So you can imagine it was something that touched my heart and I'm going to keep trying just for him to see me playing."

Worth noting
• The Mariners set their rotation for the upcoming Padres series to close out the homestand, with Marco Gonzales coming off the 10-day disabled list to start Tuesday night and Wade LeBlanc to close out the two-game set on Wednesday afternoon.

Manager Scott Servais said the order isn't finalized for the Mariners' last road trip of the season, which begins on Thursday in Anaheim, but the club will stick with its six-man rotation now that Gonzales is back.

• Servais said some of the September callups could soon see more playing time, with newly acquired utility man Kristopher Negron likely to get a start in the next few days.

"We'll try to find favorable matchups, right-left, based on what guys bring to the mix, and start working some guys in there to give them an opportunity," Servais said. "Much like we're doing in the bullpen. Give guys longer looks, more looks and hopefully it helps find somebody with a hot hand and put themselves in a good spot going forward."

• While veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma has made two rehab starts for Class A Everett, it appears to be a long shot that he'll get a chance to pitch for the Mariners in the closing weeks after missing all season following shoulder surgery.

"He'd love to get in a game at some point, but we really haven't talked about it," Servais said. "I think he felt OK and his stuff was just OK. It's been a long time since he's pitched, so the expectations need to be realistic."

• It was 25 years ago on Saturday when Servais caught Darryl Kile's no-hitter for the Astros against the Mets. Kile died of coronary disease at age 33 while still pitching for the Cardinals.

"Darryl and I were best friends," Servais said. "Unfortunately, he passed away, and that was a really hard time. I just had a chance to spend some time with his wife and see their kids and how they're coming along when we were down in San Diego. It was good to see them.

"That was a special, special time. Games and situations like that with people you're close to, you'll never forget. Darryl and I were very competitive, back and forth. It was, 'Don't shake me off. OK, shake me off.' That pitcher-catcher thing. I made the comment after the game that someday when we were 55 years old sitting back, we'd argue about who shook who off. Unfortunately, I'll never get to do that with him."

David Gottlieb is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle.

Seattle Mariners