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02/29/12 8:19 PM EST

Gutierrez out four weeks with pectoral injury

Mariners center fielder won't need surgery for tear in chest muscle

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Franklin Gutierrez has suffered a partial tear of the pectoral muscle in his right chest and will miss at least the next four weeks, the Mariners announced after the Gold Glove center fielder flew home to Seattle to meet with their team physician.

Gutierrez played just 92 games last season because of health issues and now figures to miss at least the start of this coming season despite reporting to camp in much-improved physical shape after learning how to deal with a digestive issue that caused him to lose 20 pounds and considerable strength in 2011.

Gutierrez injured himself while making throws from the outfield early in Tuesday's workout session at the Peoria Sports Complex and was flown to Seattle for an MRI test and examination by Mariners medical director Ed Khalfayan.

The club says Gutierrez won't need surgery and will be able to begin baseball activities in about four weeks. He will be re-evaluated on a week-to-week basis after that. Given that he'll need to regain his strength and timing, it's fair to assume it'll be at least six weeks before he's ready to play in a best-case scenario.

The Mariners open regular-season play in one month, facing the A's in Tokyo on March 28-29. They'll then resume the regular season on April 6 in Oakland.

Manager Eric Wedge said there was "considerable concern" before the official verdict was received from Dr. Khalfayan.

Gutierrez, 29, reported to camp two weeks ago in excellent condition, having put on more than 20 pounds after fighting with digestive issues for the previous 18 months. He missed most of Spring Training and started last season on the disabled list after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, then went back on the DL after injuring his oblique muscle in the final month.

The 2010 Gold Glove winner hit just .224 in 322 at-bats, with the illness robbing much of his strength and resulting in just one home run, 19 RBIs and a .273 slugging percentage.

But when Gutierrez got to camp this month, he checked in at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and said he felt the best he's been since 2009, when he batted .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs with a .425 slugging percentage in his first season in Seattle.

Wedge said the injury isn't very common for baseball players, and he wasn't going to speculate on the difficulty of returning from such a problem.

"We haven't gone down that road yet," he said. "Obviously we will right away as soon as we get a solid diagnosis, but we haven't even allowed ourselves to go there yet."

Michael Saunders, Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson are the primary center-field options on the 40-man roster. Veteran infielder Chone Figgins played center field in Wednesday's intrasquad game as Wedge began looking at the possibilities.

"We have Figgins slotted to play some outfield anyway," Wedge said. "Obviously depending on what happens with 'Gut,' we'll have to alter our plans a little bit. But versus a year ago, we've got options. We've got three or four guys we feel can play out there."

Ryan returns to short, shoulder gets 'good test'

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brendan Ryan made his first appearance at shortstop this spring during Wednesday's fourth and final Mariners intrasquad game as he's returning slowly from a shoulder issue sustained at the end of last season.

And wouldn't you know it: The first play he had to make was a spectacular backhand deep in the hole on a ball that deflected off the glove of third baseman Francisco Martinez, requiring Ryan to make a long throw to get catcher Jesus Montero by a step at first.

The play drew "ooohs" from his teammates and quickly answered any question of his readiness.

"Those things are sometimes an afterthought. They just kind of happen," Ryan said. "But yeah, first test I guess. Long throw, it felt good. I didn't think I was going to make it there, but that Arizona air ... it worked out."

The Mariners have a day off on Thursday and then open Cactus League play Friday, and Ryan feels he's ready to go at shortstop.

"I still think I can get into better shape because it feels good, it just kind of gets tired," he said of his arm. "But today was a good test. We're going in the right direction."

Manager Eric Wedge said the team will continue being careful with Ryan, but he was encouraged by Wednesday's effort.

"It was nice to see him out there," Wedge said. "That's a tough play on that ball in the hole and he's been swinging the bat well. He's very much ahead of where he was offensively last year and obviously it's a given with regard to what he can do defensively."

Young arms fare well during intrasquad game

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Top Mariners rookie pitching prospects James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen all made their second appearances of the spring with an inning each of shutout ball in Wednesday's intrasquad game.

Paxton, 23, allowed a one-out triple to Kyle Seager on a ball that sailed over left fielder Trayvon Robinson but struck out Brendan Ryan and Casper Wells and got Mike Carp to ground out to first in his inning.

Walker, 19, surrendered only a single to Ichiro Suzuki while inducing Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak into groundouts.

Hultzen, 22, struck out John Jaso and Carlos Peguero before giving up singles to Luis Jimenez and Adam Moore. But he got out of his inning with a groundout by Francisco Martinez.

"I definitely calmed down a little bit," Paxton said. "Last time I had the first-time jitters a little bit. I was a lot more calm and was throwing strikes, which is the biggest thing in Spring Training."

The three will throw Monday in a "B" game before making their Cactus League debuts later next week. Walker is eager to make the next step, but had plenty to relish after facing the Mariners top of the order and giving up just the hit to Ichiro.

"You try not to think about the people in the box and the names," Walker said. "You don't want to get caught up in that. Obviously it's cool because I watched them on TV growing up, but I try to treat them like anybody else and just throw strikes. I'm just concentrating on my stuff right now, trying to pound the strike zone with my fastball and get ahead in counts."

Manager Eric Wedge said the key now is for the youngsters to just experience a big league camp and that it's too early to tell how close they are to being ready for the Majors.

"I felt they were all more comfortable out there," he said. "There's no denying their stuff, but I felt they were all more comfortable and very impressive. They pounded the zone better. It was what you want to see the second time out there after getting the first one out of the way."

Hultzen (No. 16), Walker (No. 18) and Paxton (No. 77) are among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects. They rank second, third and fifth, respectively, on the Mariners' list.

Worth noting

• The Mariners will have their only day off this spring on Thursday before beginning Cactus League play on Friday, when Blake Beavan will be on the mound to start against the A's in a 1:05 p.m. MST game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. That game will be broadcast on ESPN 710 Seattle.

• The one exception to the off day will be Felix Hernandez, who will pitch a couple innings of a simulated game Thursday to get some work in and put him on schedule for the March 28 regular-season opener in Tokyo.

• Hector Noesi will start Saturday against the A's in Peoria, Ariz., followed by Jason Vargas on Sunday in the annual charity game against the Padres also in Peoria, with Hisashi Iwakuma making his Cactus League debut on Monday against San Diego in what is officially a "road game" at Peoria Stadium.

Rookie prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton will pitch in a "B" game on Monday morning against the Reds in Goodyear, Ariz.

• Chone Figgins started in center field in Wednesday's intrasquad game, his first action in the outfield as manager Eric Wedge looks to move him around and create further options. Figgins went 1-for-3 with a triple and an RBI and finished the four intrasquad games hitting 4-for-8 with three walks.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.