SEATTLE -- Gold Glove center fielder Franklin Gutierrez will be activated off the 15-day disabled list and start in center field against the Angels on Wednesday night at Safeco Field, Mariners manager Eric Wedge announced Tuesday after Seattle dropped a 2-1 game to Minnesota.
Gutierrez, 28, has been out since the middle of Spring Training with a stomach disorder that has since been diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. He just completed a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma, during which he hit .275 in 40 at-bats.
To make room on the roster, the Mariners sent rookie reliever Tom Wilhelmsen to Double-A Jackson and will begin working him as a starter. Wilhelmsen pitched eight games for Seattle with a 5.59 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.
Wedge welcomes the return of the veteran outfielder, who'll take over immediately for struggling youngster Michael Saunders. Saunders played well defensively, but is hitting .171 in 34 games.
"On and off the field, Gut's become a solid Major League player," Wedge said. "I had him when he was a young man coming up from the Minor Leagues [in Cleveland] and he's accomplished a lot since then. To have him around his teammates consistently, in center field and in the lineup, it should be a boost for us."
Asked about the return of his fellow Venezuelan, Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez broke into a smile, despite having just taken a tough 2-1 loss to the Twins.
"Finally," Hernandez said. "That's good for the team and good for him. He wants to play so bad, he's very happy right now."
By sending down Wilhelmsen, the Mariners are opting for a six-man bullpen, a situation that shouldn't be a problem if the starters continue going deep into games. Though Wilhelmsen is a great human interest story, having made the Major League team after sitting out of baseball for five years and then pitching Class A ball last year, he'd pitched just twice in the past 24 days.
Wilhelmsen was up in the bullpen, throwing in the eighth inning Tuesday as the Mariners began the process of getting him throwing more, with the idea of stretching him out gradually once he reports to Jackson.
"They had a pitch count on me, which I'd never had before," Wilhelmsen said, "so I figured something was up."
He was told after the game that he was being sent down. And while the shock of his demotion was clear in his face, the 27-year-old maintained the positive outlook he's had since arriving at Spring Training with the idea of seeing where this whole adventure might take him.
"I'm very happy about starting," Wilhelmsen said of his new assignment. "It's going to be more difficult for my wife, I think. She's got all the stuff to pack up and deal with."
Saunders will likely back up Gutierrez in center field and also be used at times in left, where rookies Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero have been splitting time since replacing Milton Bradley.
"We'll work it," Wedge said. "We've got multiple options with Peguero, Saunders and Wilson. With Guti coming back, he won't play every day. We'll need to pick him up out there, particularly early on."