BY John Hickey 08:12PM 02/29/2012

Mariners Have 4 Options With Gutierrez Out

Seattle centerfielder will be out a minimum of four weeks and could miss most of April with a partially torn pectoral muscle. Options include moving two vets, either Ichiro or Figgins, to CF.

Franklin Gutierrez is expected to miss at least a month with a pectoral injury. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The focus of the Seattle Mariners spring training hopes migrated north Wednesday from Peoria, AZ., to Seattle.

That was the route taken by center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who learned from an MRI and the team’s medical chief, Dr. Edward Khalfayan, that he has a partial tear in his right pectoral muscle.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said Wednesday afternoon Gutierrez will not require surgery but will be out more than four weeks. He’ll miss the season opener in Japan March 28.  Zduriencik said Gutierrez “was crushed” by the injury news, particularly after he had resolved the dietary problems that caused him to miss considerable playing the time with irritable bowel syndrome.

Once down to 180 pounds, Gutierrez, 29, reported to camp at more than 200 pounds was considered by Mariners trainer Rick Griffin to be in top shape.

Gutierrez will begin baseball workouts after four weeks and be re-evaluated.

Manager Eric Wedge isn’t ready to address the options after getting the bad news following the Tuesday episode when a routine throw during a fielding drill created the injury. Wedge said he’d rarely seen such an injury from such an ordinary moment.

“I’m not sure,” Wedge said about a starting lineup replacement. “We haven’t even gone down that road yet.”

We aren’t so constrained. Planning for the worst — missing all of April — here are the options:

1. Move Chone Figgins from third base to center field. Figgins was in center field Wednesday during the last of the Mariners’ four intrasquad games. It’s a move that makes a great deal of sense.

Figgins is a great athlete whose speed covers a lot of ground. He doesn’t have a lot of experience in the outfield, but the Gutierrez injury is early enough in the spring that Figgins can get time to regain his feel for the position. Before becoming a full-time third baseman in 2007, he was a center fielder more than an infielder from 2003-06 while with the Angels.

The move of Figgins to center would open up third base for Kyle Seager or Alex Liddi – or a platoon of the two – to make their marks. Both had chances to show their stuff in the latter stages of 2011. The Mariners could get power from Liddi or a higher average and on-base from Seager.

2. Give Casper Wells a chance to show he’s a legitimate outfield candidate. Wells, picked up in the trade of pitcher Doug Fister to Detroit last year, lost six weeks last season after being been hit on the nose by a pitch from former Mariner and current Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow.

He homered in four consecutive games before that happened, and although he stayed in the lineup off-and-on into mid-September, he hit just .125 with two homers after the injury. Before the injury, he hit .326 in his first 13 games with Seattle with five homers and a dozen RBI. More significantly, the Mariners were 7-6 in those 13 games.

3. Move Ichiro Suzuki from right field to center and have Wells play right (or left, and have Mike Carp from left to right).

Ichiro hasn’t played in center field since the middle of June 2008. It may be time to see him move back. He’s already got plenty on his plate with the move from batting leadoff to hitting third. And at 38,  he is no longer the defensive player he once was.

Even so, he spent most of his Japan career in center field, and he’s got the experience none of the others have.  Having Ichiro move back to the middle of the diamond would free up Wedge to mix-and-match in left and right, and that might make up for any defensive problems that Ichiro might have making the conversion.

4. Michael Saunders gets his second chance in as many seasons to fill in for an ailing Gutierrez.

Saunders didn’t do much with his chance in 2011, playing poorly enough long enough to be finally sent down to Triple-A Tacoma with a .168 batting average by June. He didn’t get called back until September, and was 1-for-24 in sporadic play upon his return.

Saunders took it upon himself to change things. He hired a hitting coach, the brother of 2011 teammate Josh Bard, and also worked on the mental part of the game. He tried to learn what he needed to do to have the kind of career he has spent his life hoping for.

The 6-foot-4 Saunders is a left-handed hitter with some potential for power and has a strong throwing arm that would make him an asset in center.

Although he’s fourth on this list, Saunders could be the sleeper pick. The Mariners haven’t had much good karma in center the last couple of years, but maybe they can pick some up with Saunders.

NOTES: Shortstop Brendan Ryan finally was able to play on defense Wednesday after battling shoulder issues, and he made a strong throw from short that opened some eyes . . . Wedge said Figgins was “scheduled to play some outfield anyway,’’ before the injury to Gutierrez cropped up.  . . . The club announced Tuesday that single-game tickets for the 2012 season will go on sale March 10, a week from Saturday.


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