Since joining the Mariners on June 24 after 48 games with Class AAA Tacoma, Gutierrez is hitting .315 (46 for 146) with a whopping .692 slugging percentage in 50 games, including 10 doubles, 15 homers and 35 RBI.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Franklin Gutierrez pauses to think about his answer.

What was he doing at this time last year?

It’s easy to know what he wasn’t doing. He wasn’t playing baseball. And he wasn’t certain if he would again.

Bat man

.692 Gutierrez’ slugging percentage, ranking him first in the majors among players with a minimum 150 plate appearances

.353 Batting average in last 26 games, with 12 homers and 27 RBI

.317 Average with 7 homers, 31 RBI in 48 games at Tacoma

“I guess I was at home working out and hitting and preparing,” the Mariners outfielder said.

And then his voice trailed off to almost a whisper as he thought about his year spent in an injury-imposed baseball purgatory

“And hoping,” he said quietly, “I would get a chance to play again.”

But Gutierrez has avoided the disabled list for a full season back in baseball as a bench/platoon player. His hopes are no longer about whether he will play again but how many more seasons.

“I am thinking about playing next year now,” he said. “Right now I’m just having fun playing the game.”

When you have Gutierrez’s numbers, the game is very fun.

Since joining the Mariners on June 24 after 48 games with Class AAA Tacoma, Gutierrez is hitting .315 (46 for 146) with a whopping .692 slugging percentage in 50 games, including 10 doubles, 15 homers and 35 RBI.

To put that in perspective, for players with a minimum of 150 plate appearances (he has 160), Gutierrez has the highest slugging percentage in baseball — even above Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper (.646).

Gutierrez has homered once in every 9.74 at-bats this season. It’s the best ratio in club history, before Ken Griffey Jr.’s 10.83 in 1994.

TUESDAY

Mariners @ Royals, 5:10 p.m., ROOT

“Obviously, I’m not thinking about hitting homers,” Gutierrez said. “I’m just trying to put a good swing on the ball.”

Much of the damage has come in his past 25 games, during which he’s hitting .345 with an .833 slugging percentage with five doubles, 12 homers and 25 RBI.

He is three homers from tying his season-high of 18, which came in 2009. It was his breakout season, as he drove in 70 runs and hit .283.

Is he a better hitter now?

“I have more experience,” Gutierrez, 32, said. “That’s always good. I’m just going out there and being confident in what I’m doing.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon saw Gutierrez from across the diamond for many years. And he notices some differences.

“The years should make you better as far as the mental part of the game,” McClendon said. “From a physical standpoint, he’s always been a gifted player. But he was a young player. I guess it’s that old saying, ‘The past should prepare you for the future.’ ”

With those kinds of results, the obvious question is, “Why not play him more often?”

The answer: He can’t.

And that’s where it gets complicated. Because he has ankylosing spondylitis — an arthritic condition that often affects the hips, pelvis and upper-leg area — Gutierrez no longer is a full-time player.

It’s why he sat out last season, trying to adjust to its effects. The disease has robbed him of his speed, the ability to play center field and the stamina to play multiple days in a row. With medication, stretching and preparation, he is able to get himself ready to play on a limited basis.

The Mariners have used him mostly as a platoon player. He starts in left field or at designated hitter when the Mariners face a left-handed starting pitcher, and he sometimes serves as a pinch-hitter on other days.

“I think the way they are using me right now is the way I’m able to play,” he said. “If I’m going more consecutive days, that’s when I start to feel tired every day, and that’s when things happen.”

Said McClendon: “He has limitations. The health is the biggest issue, and that’s why he understands his role. If he didn’t have those limitations, he’d be (upset) he wasn’t playing every day. And if he didn’t have those limitations, he would be playing every day.”

McClendon said Gutierrez has been available to play more than expected and can only remember three times when he was unable to play as planned and one extended period of three or four days that he was out. So the manager checks with him every day to see how he’s feeling.

“I think the one thing that is missed in all of this is Guti’s integrity,” McClendon said. “He could have come in last year and tried to suit up and got paid. But he didn’t do that. He had a guaranteed contract and told the club he couldn’t go. He turned down a lot of money last year.”

Gutierrez was placed on the restricted list last year by the Mariners after signing a one-year, $1 million contract with incentives.

But what about next year?

He’s a free agent after this season. And he’s proven to be a productive contributor. Had general manager Jack Zduriencik still been with the team, it seemed like Gutierrez returning on a one-year, incentive-laden deal was a given. But the new GM might have different plans.

Gutierrez wants to return,

“This is my first choice,” he said. “This will always be my first choice. Anything can happen. I have to wait until everything is over.”