Gutierrez back from second DL stint, starts in right
Outfielder battling inflammatory condition, plays first game since June
SEATTLE -- The on-again, off-again career of Franklin Gutierrez was back on again Monday as the Mariners recalled the veteran outfielder from his latest rehabilitation assignment in Triple-A Tacoma and placed him immediately in the lineup for the series opener against the Rangers.
Gutierrez, 30, has played in just 150 of the Mariners' 453 games over the past three years due to a variety of disabilities. The Venezuelan native said Monday he's been diagnosed with an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which he's been receiving medicine for over the past three months.
"It's something genetic," Gutierrez said. "I started dealing with this the last couple years, starting with my stomach and some other things. It's been happening for three years now. I think it's all connected. So I'm glad that finally they found out what was going on with me, because I didn't know what was happening and it was tough for me to play like that."
After going 0-for-4 in Monday's 8-3 loss to the Rangers, Gutierrez is hitting .250 with five home runs and 11 RBIs this season. He's batted .211 in 47 games during several rehab stints with Tacoma to deal with hamstring issues, including just .179 (7-for-39) over his last 10 games. But the club wants to give him another shot and is hopeful his right-handed bat can help as Seattle lines up against left-handed starters the next three games.
The Mariners designated starting pitcher Aaron Harang for assignment to make room on the 25-man roster. They'll need to add another pitcher to their rotation by Friday in Houston, but for now are going with six outfielders.
"It's a bit of a traffic jam, but it's a good problem to have," manager Eric Wedge said of his congested outfield. "We'll continue to try and put the best lineup out there. The last couple days we've struggled a bit offensively, so hopefully a little bit different look in the lineup helps us out a little bit; getting Gutierrez back in there helps us out a little bit. We'll see what happens."
Wedge inserted Gutierrez into the third spot in the order and flip-flopped Nos. 1 and 2 hitters Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, wanting to put the lefty Miller between the switch-hitting Franklin and right-handed Gutierrez.
Gutierrez will play right field, which Wedge hopes puts less pressure on him physically than his normal center field. Gutierrez was an American League Gold Glove winner in center in 2010, but hasn't played consistently since.
"It's not much different," Gutierrez said of his right-field role. "I've played there before in Cleveland. It is what it is right now. I'm trying to get my legs back. It's not 100 percent that I'm there, but the medicine is working right now and there'll be a time when I feel completely good."
Gutierrez missed 70 games in 2011, first with a digestive issue and then with a strained left oblique muscle. He missed 122 games in '10 with a torn pectoral muscle and later with a serious concussion.
He's had two extensive disabled list stints this season, both due to right hamstring strains. After returning the first time in June, he hit a home run and a double in his first game back, but aggravated the injury in his second game.
"It's been a long time, but I'm really happy to be coming back again and try to help my team," he said. "I'm feeling good. I've been battling with this the whole year, but right now I feel like I'm back again in my normal body. I'm just trying to concentrate and get ready every day and help the team any way that I can."
Gutierrez is in the final year of a four-year, $20.25 million contract that is paying him $7 million. The Mariners have the option of renewing his deal for $7.5 million next year or buying out the '14 option for $500,000.
Harang DFA'd; top prospect Walker could fill spot
SEATTLE -- Aaron Harang was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Monday, leaving the veteran right-hander looking for a team and Seattle with a rotation spot to fill before Friday's game in Houston.
Harang, 35, went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts after being acquired in an early-season trade from the Rockies. Harang was an Opening Day starter for six seasons with the Reds and went 10-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 31 starts for the Dodgers last year, but struggled to find consistency with Seattle and gave up nine hits and seven runs in 5 2/3 innings in his last start Sunday in a 7-1 loss to the Angels.
"Obviously it's a tough decision, but this is part of the game," Harang said. "I've been around this long enough and seen it enough times. Unfortunately this is the first time I've been told face-to-face that I've been designated, so it's a little tougher than I expected. But I get it.
"I had some inconsistencies that I've got to work on. I know I can still pitch and be successful at this level, so I'm not worried about that part. It's just figuring out the little things and making those adjustments."
Harang threw two complete-game shutouts for the Mariners, but was 0-2 with a 9.12 ERA in five starts this past month.
Manager Eric Wedge said no decision has been finalized on who will take Harang's spot on Friday against the Astros, saying it could come from a current member of the bullpen or from the Minor Leagues. Taijuan Walker, 21, pitched six innings of one-run ball for Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday and would be in line to start again Friday if the Mariners decide to bring him up.
"You have to weigh what's the upside, what's the downside, what's the risk/reward this year, for him, for us, down into next year and the future," Wedge said. "That's why we're not rushing into anything. We feel like we've got a couple different options that we could slide in there, so we're going to weigh all that out."
Walker has thrown 141 1/3 innings between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma this year, with a 9-10 record and 2.93 ERA in 25 starts. The Mariners would like to limit him to about 160 innings this year, so he'd only be able to make about three more starts.
But Wedge indicated that wasn't necessarily a deal breaker.
"We've got multiple guys that we feel like have a pretty good chance to be starting pitchers for us in the future," Wedge said. "Because we have options like that, we feel like we can cover the rest of the season. When I say 'cover,' I mean give not just one guy, but maybe a couple guys opportunities."
Rookie Brandon Maurer started 10 games earlier in the season and is working as a long reliever, so he could potentially pick up some starts. The Mariners will likely also add other pitchers when rosters can be expanded in September, with starters Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi among the potential candidates.
Ackley credits relaxed approach for success at plate
SEATTLE -- The Mariners' offense may have sputtered in this past weekend's sweep by the Angels, but don't blame Dustin Ackley. The newly converted outfielder went 5-for-10 with a home run and two doubles to continue a resurgent second half.
After some early-season struggles merited a Minor League demotion, Ackley has returned looking like the hitter the Mariners envisioned when they made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting .330 with an .833 OPS.
" Obviously he's come a long way," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's had to do it the hard way and a lot of that's on him, but I've been really impressed with the way he's handled it and fought through it."
Ackley says that he believes he is pressing less and taking a more mature approach that will allow his success to be more sustainable than other hot stretches. That newfound belief in his abilities has translated into increased power for the 25-year-old, who hit just his second home run of the season Sunday and tacked on a double.
After slugging just .417 and .328 in his first two years, Ackley has posted a .473 slugging percentage in the second half.
"I think that all comes with tension. The more tension in your body, the more ground balls you're going to hit, the less you're going to hit the ball hard," Ackley said. "I think that's really what it's from is relaxation because I'm starting to square the ball up and not really worry about making contact, more driving the ball and I think that's what separates those ground balls from doubles and homers."
• Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales has been claimed off waivers by an unnamed team, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports. That means the Mariners and the claiming team have 72 hours to work out a deal, or Seattle can pull Morales back off waivers and hang on to him.
• Outfielder Michael Saunders took batting practice for the first time in three days Monday and said his sore neck was feeling much better, though he wasn't in the lineup for a third straight game. Saunders hasn't played since Friday and says he thinks he hurt his neck when he banged into the fence.
• Rookie catcher Mike Zunino, on the 15-day disabled list since July 26 with a broken hamate bone in his left hand, worked out hard before Monday's game and could be sent out on a rehab assignment to Triple-A Tacoma as early as Tuesday. Zunino is a logical choice to return by Sept. 1 when rosters can be expanded, if he's fully recovered.
• Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen gave up three runs on four hits -- including two home runs -- in an inning for Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday in Tucson. Wilhelmsen has an 8.71 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over six outings since being sent down.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. Jacob Thorpe is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.