SEATTLE -- While Justin Smoak was hitting just .203 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs heading into Saturday's game with Texas, the young Mariners first baseman still carries considerable respect with his former team.

Smoak was the Rangers' first-round Draft pick in 2008 and regarded as one of their premier prospects before being traded to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal in July, 2009.

"Smoak will be all right," said Rangers skipper Ron Washington, who managed Smoak for 70 games his rookie season in 2010 before the midseason trade. "He's a fighter. Somewhere down the line, he'll figure it out because there is something there.

"He might have gotten up here too soon, we had him up too soon. But he has something in that bat. He just has to figure it out. He's going to pay dividends for them. Jack [Zduriencik, GM] knows talent."

Washington, whose Rangers squad is loaded with proven veterans, understands what the Mariners are going through.

"All those kids will pay dividends," he said. "They can play. They're just in the big leagues learning on the job. They're tough. I don't see them cowing down. They're going out there and getting after it. They're just inexperienced."

Mariners manager Eric Wedge has preached that same message all season. He was encouraged by Smoak's 10-pitch battle with Derek Holland on Friday night, as well as some positive signs from fellow youngsters Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero and Michael Saunders.

"As far away as it may seem, we've got good young players who work hard and care about the right things," Wedge said. "We're not as far away as people think we are. And I'm going to keep saying that because I believe it. Once it happens and we keep moving forward, this will be a footnote."

Guti slowly working back from concussion

SEATTLE -- Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez played catch with a Mariners trainer during the club's pregame workout Saturday as he continued his slow return from a significant concussion two weeks earlier.

Gutierrez was finally cleared for baseball activity by doctors, but he is still a ways from being ready to go out on a Minor League rehab assignment.

"He's not doing much more than playing catch today, but he's exercising more," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's just doing a little more each day. He feels good. We're going to take him on the road with us, try to get him deeper into the baseball-activity part of it."

Gutierrez was playing just his 13th game of the season after returning from a partially torn pectoral muscle when he got hit in the ear with a pickoff throw to first base by Red Sox pitcher Franklin Morales on June 29.

Wedge said doctors are still being cautious with the 29-year-old Venezuelan, but he's hopeful that once Gutierrez is cleared to play in games that it won't take long to get him back with the Mariners.

"We've got to test him in every area of the baseball side of things before we send him out on a rehab," Wedge said. "As long as his timing isn't too far off, I don't think he should have to go out for that long. But even when he goes out, we'll have to see how he gets through the first game, how he wakes up the next morning and continue to do the tests we need to do with him."

Jaso to get time against southpaws

SEATTLE -- Mariners manager Eric Wedge has platooned left-handed-hitting catcher John Jaso almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers this season. But with Jaso leading the Mariners in hitting at .272 and proving to be a clutch bat in a lineup searching for solutions, Wedge said Jaso will get some playing time in the next four games even when Seattle faces four straight southpaw starters.

Jaso is hitting .048 (1-for-21) against lefties, while he's hitting .313 (36-for-115) against right-handers this season.

There is a reason Wedge has worked to put Jaso in situations where he can succeed against right-handers, as his career numbers are .158 with a .515 OPS against lefties and .265 with a .759 OPS against righties.

But given Jaso's performance this season, Wedge will find some playing time for him against southpaws Matt Harrison of Texas and Jonathan Sanchez, Everett Teaford and Bruce Chen of Kansas City.

"We'll try," Wedge said. "He's a good hitter. He hasn't had much of an opportunity against lefties. But when you talk about the way he approaches the ball, I think it's safe to say he won't be sitting for all those games. You will see him play."

Worth noting

• Rookie pitcher Erasmo Ramirez will throw a bullpen session Sunday for the first time since going on the 15-day disabled list on July 1 with a strained right elbow. Ramirez has been building up with daily throwing sessions, but has yet to unleash everything.

"I haven't thrown any breaking balls yet, but I feel good with the fastball," said the 22-year-old. "So we'll see what happens with the breaking ball."

Wedge said Ramirez will make the upcoming road trip with the club so he can continue working with the trainers.

• Wedge said the club has "a pretty good idea" of who will pitch in Tuesday's game at Kansas City, which normally would be Ramirez's spot in the rotation. But he said that announcement, which will require a roster move, won't be made until the move is required.

Blake Beavan, who threw seven scoreless innings with just two hits in his last Triple-A Tacoma outing, appears the logical choice. Beavan is 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA in six starts since being sent down.

• The professional debut of first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino was delayed a day when Everett's Class A game on Friday was rained out. Zunino finally got his start on Saturday and doubled in his first at-bat, finishing 1-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored while catching the first game of a doubleheader.

• Sunday's game against the Rangers will represent the 13th anniversary of the opening of Safeco Field, which debuted July 15, 1999, when Seattle hosted the Padres. The Mariners' record at Safeco was 568-493 (.535) heading into Saturday's game.