HOUSTON -- It's been six years since the Mariners last played at Minute Maid Park, but the park in downtown Houston will soon become a familiar destination with the Astros' arrival in the American League West.
The Mariners opened a three-game series at the 13-year-old facility on Monday and will visit Houston again in mid-July and late August, when the temperatures surely will be higher than this week's 70-80 degree range.
The Mariners last played at Minute Maid in 2007 when they got swept in a three-game set. Their only other visit to the park came in '02, when they won two of three. Seattle's last win in Houston was June 23, 2002.
The park has some unique features, including the famous hill in center field and a very short left-field wall that has several different surfaces and odd angles built in. Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez has never played here, so he went out in early batting practice to explore the intricacies.
"It's weird," said Gutierrez. "It's different. I just walked around and checked it out, so I'll have an idea during the game if I have to run there. All the walls have pads and left field is short. You need to take care and be aware of everything."
Not all the Mariners are unfamiliar with the park. Jason Bay has hit 11 home runs with a .297 average in 118 at-bats in 31 games at Minute Maid. In 10 games, Michael Morse has hit .429 in 35 at-bats -- the highest average of any active Major Leaguer with at least 30 at-bats here -- with four home runs and seven RBIs.
And Justin Smoak hit .500 (7-for-14) with two home runs and eight RBIs in three games at Minute Maid while with the Rangers.
Bay has played a lot of games in the outfield and has seen some crazy things.
"Depending where you're at, there are a lot of nooks and crannies," he said. "Left field is pretty short, but there's the scoreboard out there that is hard metal, but the numbers are plastic. Sometimes if [the ball] hits the metal grid, it shoots, but if it hits the numbers, it dies.
"The biggest thing is making sure the other outfielders kind of crash to the ball, because the ball can hit something and go 50 feet in another direction," said Bay. "You can't control them all, but you just have to have guys in the right spots. It's definitely a little different."
As for the center-field hill?
"I've see a few guys take a few steps up it, but I've never seen it really be a factor," Bay said. "I know as an outfielder, when you're running in foul ground on a mound, trying to look up while you're doing that is darn near impossible. If you hit a ball that far, it should be a homer. But I've seen highlights where guys have battled it out there, so you just have to be aware of it."
Gutierrez injures hamstring, may be headed to DL
HOUSTON -- Just as the Mariners were working Franklin Gutierrez back toward more consistent playing time, the injury-plagued center fielder strained his right hamstring in the fourth inning of Monday's 7-1 victory over the Astros and could be headed for the disabled list.
Gutierrez was helped off the field after just missing a diving attempt at a bloop single by Chris Carter. The 2010 Gold Glove winner has been in and out of the lineup most of the past two weeks with leg issues, but this one might sideline him completely.
"It's a potential DL," said manager Eric Wedge. "We'll talk to him here in a little bit and see how he feels tomorrow. But the poor guy just can't catch a break."
Gutierrez has missed 192 of the 324 games the past two seasons due to a stomach disorder, a strained oblique, a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion, all of which put him on the disabled list for extensive periods. But this latest issue is a new one.
"I have some issues with my pelvis, and I'm trying to fix it," Gutierrez said before the game. "Some days it's the groin, some days the hamstrings. It's different, but I'm working on it. I'm doing a lot of things just to get strong in that area and avoid any injury."
Four innings later, he was headed to the clubhouse with the trainers for tests.
"It's the right upper hamstring," Wedge said. "He didn't feel anything pop, but he definitely felt something. I think he just overextended in the dive."
The Mariners are short on center fielders, as Michael Saunders is already on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained shoulder, though he could be back sometime next week.
Endy Chavez has been playing center when Gutierrez has been out. If Gutierrez goes on the disabled list, the club will likely need to bring an outfielder up from Triple-A Tacoma.
Carlos Peguero was removed from the Rainiers game early on Monday night in Salt Lake City and could be headed to Houston to join the the team. Peguero is hitting .246 for the Rainiers and has played 63 games for the Mariners over the past two years.
Wedge didn't specify what the Mariners would do, but acknowledged "we probably have to do something to bridge the gap until Saunders gets back."
Saunders plays catch, return date in question
HOUSTON -- Outfielder Michael Saunders played some light catch on Monday for the first time since going on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right shoulder that occurred when he ran into the Safeco Field wall on April 11.
Saunders is eligible to come off the DL on Friday, but manager Eric Wedge said that return date remains up in the air.
"I'm not prepared to say that just yet," Wedge said. "We need to let him play catch a couple more days and go from there, decide how we're going to play this out."
Wedge said it's possible Saunders will be sent out for a Minor League rehab start or two before he is activated.
• After hitting 1-for-24 with runners in scoring position in the Rangers series, the Mariners are now batting .118 with RISP in their 13 losses and .351 in their seven wins heading into Monday's opener in Houston.
• The Blue Jays traded former Mariners outfielder Casper Wells to Oakland on Monday for cash, with Wells expected to join the A's in Boston on Tuesday. Wells was designated for assignment by Toronto last week after being claimed off waivers from Seattle.
• A scoring decision on Brendan Ryan's error in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Tigers has been reversed, giving Felix Hernandez an earned run in what had originally been eight innings with just the one unearned run. The decision raised Hernandez's ERA from 2.20 to 2.51 going into Monday's start.
• Kyle Seager's 10th double of the season on Sunday moved him into a tie for the third-most in franchise history for the month of April. The only other Mariner to hit 10 doubles in the first 20 games of the season was Edgar Martinez in '96, when he finished with a club-record 12.