MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Saunders was not in the Mariners' lineup for the fourth straight game Tuesday as he continues recovering from a slight groin muscle strain. The outfielder said he might be available to come off the bench to hit against the Twins.

"Every day it's getting stronger," Saunders said. "I'm ready to pinch-hit, if needed. The goal is to make sure I play in September and not rush back right away, as much as I'd like to. It's only a matter of time now."

Saunders hurt his groin in a collision with Eric Thames on Friday night. The two crashed together on the final play of a 9-8 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field while tracking a deep line drive in the right-center field gap by Paul Konerko.

Saunders, 25, is hitting .246 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs. He's filled in well most of the season in center field, but will split time between right and left field now that Franklin Gutierrez is back with the club.

Saunders took batting practice Tuesday and did some work with trainer Rick Griffin.

"We're giving him another day, but he's most definitely making progress," said manager Eric Wedge. "Hopefully he'll be available if we need him, but it would be limited. I would think [he'll be ready by Wednesday] or the next day at the latest, if he keeps making the progress he's been making."

Gutierrez forging ahead despite 'flashbacks'

MINNEAPOLIS -- Franklin Gutierrez acknowledged it was a little tough being on first base with Twins pitcher Liam Hendriks throwing over several times in his return to the lineup on Monday, given the memory of how he got a concussion two months earlier.

When Hendriks threw over the first time, Gutierrez put his hands up over his head in a protective fashion, remembering how he took a pickoff throw off the side of his face from Boston's Franklin Morales on June 28.

But then Gutierrez proceeded to steal two bases during the game against Hendriks, forging ahead even after he got hit in the hand with a pitch in the sixth inning -- another difficult moment for the oft-injured outfielder.

"Oh my God. Every time he was throwing over, I was having flashbacks," Gutierrez said. "I think it's going to take time. Every time I was remembering what happened. It's going to take a while for me to forget about it. So every time I go to first base you're going to see me trying to protect my face and whatever I can."

And yet, Gutierrez is declining to wear a double-flap batting helmet the Mariners have for him.

"No, I don't want to do that," he said. "I just don't feel comfortable with that. Maybe some day I will wear it again, but not for now."

"Maybe I'll suggest an invisible flap on one side so he can still look cool," manager Eric Wedge said with a chuckle. "I don't know. But I think that was pretty evident to everybody. It's human nature. The guy got clipped pretty good over there and missed a lot of time. But the flip side of it, he stole a couple bases and didn't have any fear of getting back out there and pushing the envelope a little."

Gutierrez made an instant impact for the Mariners in his first game back, going 1-for-2 with a walk, a hit by pitch, two stolen bases and an excellent catch of a deep drive by Trevor Plouffe at the top of the fence.

"He was all out, and you could tell he was excited to be back here playing," said Wedge. "He was comfortable, he was aggressive, his teammates embraced him being back. It was all positive."

Fresh off another shutout, Felix entering rarefied air

MINNEAPOLIS -- Felix Hernandez continued his ascent to where few pitchers have gone with his 1-0 victory over the Twins on Monday. Given time to dig into the numbers, the Elias Sports Bureau and the Mariners baseball information department came up with more Felix facts in the wake of his club-record fifth shutout of the season.

The five shutouts are tied for the most in a season by an American League pitcher since 1989, joining Bert Blyleven ('89), Roger Clemens ('92) and David Wells ('98).

Hernandez joins Mark Langston (September 1988) as the only pitcher in Mariners history with three shutouts in one calendar month.

Only two other pitchers in Major League history have had three 1-0 shutouts in a calendar month: Carl Hubbell for the Giants (July 1933) and the Braves' Dick Rudolph (August 1916).

Hernandez is the first Major League pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1998 with the Astros to record five shutouts in a 12-start span.

The right-hander's 16 starts of seven-plus innings with one or fewer runs is a Mariners record, breaking the mark of 15 he set during his 2010 Cy Young Award season.

Going into Tuesday's games, he had the lowest ERA in the Major Leagues (2.43), the most innings pitched (196 2/3), was third in strikeouts (184) and sixth in batting average against (.218).

Hernandez's ERA since June 17 is 1.40 over a span of 14 starts. The next closest in the Majors in that time frame: Tampa Bay's David Price at 2.09.

The Mariners know what they've got.

"His stuff is unbelievable," said first baseman Justin Smoak. "When he's on, he's on. And when he's off, he's still good. It's just fun to play behind him."

Manager Eric Wedge said it's as good a run as he's seen by a pitcher.

"In the beginning of '08 with Cliff Lee, he got off to an incredible start for us [in Cleveland] with some ridiculous numbers," Wedge said. "But in regard to just how dominant Felix has been in this stretch, I've never seen anything like it."

Worth noting

• Mike Carp went 1-for-5 with an RBI on Monday at Las Vegas in his first rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma as he works back from a strained groin muscle. Wedge said reports were good and that Carp would DH a few more games before getting work at first base.

• First pitch for the Mariners-Red Sox game on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at Safeco Field is 7:10 p.m. PT, which is a switch from the 12:40 p.m. start listed on pocket schedules that were printed before the change was made.

• Former Mariners outfielder Tom Paciorek will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Saturday's 1:05 p.m. game against the Angels at Safeco Field as part of the team's ongoing 35th anniversary celebration.