By Brady Henderson
Thin at catcher and in need of some offensive help, the Mariners have called up their top prospect and last year’s first-round pick, Mike Zunino.
Catcher Brandon Bantz, who was selected from Triple-A Tacoma last week, was designated for assignment to make room on the roster. The Mariners announced the moves before Tuesday’s game against the Astros. Zunino is not in the starting lineup but is available to play.
Zunino’s callup comes a year and week after the Mariners made him the third overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Florida, where he won nearly every collegiate award following his junior season.
Zunino, 22, was hitting .238 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 47 games with Triple-A Tacoma this season. While Zunino’s overall numbers raise questions about his readiness, he has started to turn things around offensively of late, hitting .262 with three home runs and seven RBIs over his last 10 games.
Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto told “Bob and Groz” on Monday that Zunino’s improvement was a reflection of the adjustments he had been making to Pacific Coast League pitching. After a scorching start to the season, Zunino began to see fewer fastballs and a steadier diet of off-speed pitches.
“It’s taken a few weeks but he has now adjusted. He had seven hits in the last four games of the homestand. He’s starting to hit the ball the other way, adjust to the off-speed pitches. He hit a long double off a breaking ball the other day in Tacoma,” Curto said.
“So I think things are starting to come around for him. He’s also using the whole field a bit more, driving the ball to right field a little more frequently, which is nice to see.”
The Mariners placed backup catcher Jesus Sucre on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Sucre was selected from Tacoma when the Mariners optioned Jesus Montero, who was scheduled to have knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
The Mariners have scored a total of 10 runs while losing three of their last five games. Kelly Shoppach, the team’s starting catcher, is hitting just .202 and is 9 for 60 (.150) since the end of April.