HOUSTON - Franklin Gutierrez nearly became the forgotten man for the Mariners after missing almost the entire season with hamstring issues, but the injury-plagued outfielder made his presence felt Thursday as Seattle snapped a six-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Astros.
Gutierrez went 3-for-4 with a double and home run, with his two-run blast in the third inning standing up as the winning runs as the Mariners won for the first time since manager Eric Wedge returned a week ago from his own month-long absence following a stroke.
"I know I'm not going to have a season just in one month," said Gutierrez, who has hit two home runs in the three games since he rejoined the team. "I'm just focusing on every game when I'm in there, trying to do whatever it takes to win."
The 30-year-old has played just 21 games this season, but now has seven home runs in 73 at-bats after hitting just five in 472 at-bats over the previous two years. He also ripped a double to the hill in deep center field at Minute Maid Park, which would have been a home run in most stadiums.
"Yeah, I've been working on my strength to use a little bit more of my legs," Gutierrez said. "When you use your legs, you can hit the ball better and with power. So, as soon as you put a good swing on the ball, anything can happen."
Wedge wonders what might have happened had the 2010 American League Gold-Glove-Award-winning center fielder stayed healthy. Gutierrez has played just 153 of Seattle's 457 games over the past three seasons, but says he's finally getting better after being diagnosed and put on medication for an inflammatory condition called ankylosing spondylitis.
"Guti was really good today," Wedge said. "It's hard not to imagine how much better we'd be as a ballclub if we had him all year, or for the last three years for that matter. Outside of the health standpoint, this is a very strong, sound Major League player that knows himself very well.
"He's been there for awhile, he just hasn't been able to take it for a good spin at this level because he hasn't been able to stay healthy. He's really been snakebitten. But he really knows himself well and understands the game up here."
Gutierrez's blast, along with a solo home run by second baseman Nick Franklin, helped right-hander Erasmo Ramirez pick up his fifth victory since coming off the disabled list himself.
Ramirez, 23, gave up five hits and two runs over 5 2/3 innings as he improved to 5-1 with a 5.18 ERA in nine games. After missing three months with an elbow problem, the young right-hander started his season with four straight wins courtesy of some excellent run support. But he's pitched far better in recent outings, with a 2.33 ERA over his past three starts against the Rangers, Angels and Astros.
"Everything is about confidence," Ramirez said. "Confidence and being aggressive. That was really what I've done the last three starts, just go out there and not be thinking too much, just be aggressive as I can with all my pitches."
Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina threw 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief before turning the game over to Danny Farquhar, who notched his 10th save since taking over as closer on Aug. 3.
Wedge was pleased to walk off the field a winner for the first time since rejoining the club on Aug. 23 as his team improved to 60-73.
"It's been about a month and a half, for multiple reasons," Wedge said. "It felt good to get out there and shake hands [after the win]."
Franklin opened the game with a one-out blast to left field, an opposite-field shot off right-hander Jordan Lyles. It was the second baseman's 12th homer of the season, the most among American League rookies, and snapped an 0-for-16 slump that had seen his batting average drop to .227.
Franklin was down 0-2 in the at-bat, but came back to a full count before driving a fastball over the fence.
"Things have been going a little rough lately, so I've just been thinking about trying to put the ball in play and making contact," Franklin said. "It did feel good to get it to 3-2 and work the count."
The Mariners managed just four hits in Lyles' six innings, but two of them were long balls. Seattle came into the game ranked fourth in the Majors in home runs and now has 157 on the season, already eight more than they hit all of last year with 29 games still to go.
Houston fell to 44-89 and is 5-8 this year against the Mariners with six games remaining in the season series.