SHANNON DRAYER

Mike Zunino’s development will continue in majors with Mariners

Jun 30, 2016, 5:05 PM | Updated: Jul 1, 2016, 2:40 pm
Mike Zunino's improvements at the plate have allowed the Mariners to enjoy the fruits of his defens...
Mike Zunino's improvements at the plate have allowed the Mariners to enjoy the fruits of his defensive ability. (AP)
(AP)

The Mariners have recalled Mike Zunino to take the place of Steve Clevenger, who has been placed on the disabled list with a broken bone in his right hand after getting hit by a foul tip in the 8-1 loss to the Pirates Wednesday night. Zunino joins the team having hit .282/.366/.516 in 69 games with the Rainiers. While he struggled mightily at the plate in May, hitting just .198, he has rebounded nicely in June, putting up a line of .274/.364/.405.

The plan this year for Zunino, whom the Mariners selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, was to take a step back and get the opportunity to develop at the plate away from the lights, crowds and pressures of the major leagues. Getting him the plate appearances he missed with his quick call-up to the big leagues in 2013 was a priority. After a month of spring training with the big-league staff and almost three months in the minors – which included a hot start, extreme fade and then rebound – at the very least it would appear he has received a solid foundation.

Dipoto says Zunino will stick with Mariners only if he can get playing time

While an injury to the backup catcher was far from the ideal way to get Zunino back, Mariners manager Scott Servais is comfortable with the move.

“I knew he would be back at some point,” Servais said. “Sometimes situation and circumstances dictate that, but he’s earned it. He’s made some adjustments. He’s made strides. He still does a great job behind the plate.”

While Servais hinted at Zunino’s return – and almost seemed to state a preference for him to be called up – in his postgame press conference Wednesday, this was an organizational decision that was based on more than just the numbers.

“You’ve got to trust the people who are seeing him on a consistent basis,” Servais said. “Is he making adjustments? The quality of the at-bats. It’s not so much is he getting a hit or the guy in from third, it’s how he is handling an at-bat. Against a right-handed pitcher who maybe has big-league time, is he laying off the 1-2 slider or is he flailing at it? Those are the type of things you are looking at. Some days have been better than others for Mike. I don’t think you go from striking out at a high rate to not striking out at all. We are just trying to get it manageable and that’s what we’ve done.”

The challenge now for Zunino will be to continue to develop with fewer plate appearances. While he had been catching or playing DH nearly every day in Tacoma, Chris Iannetta remains the starting catcher in Seattle. That said, it sounds like Zunino will get a fair amount of playing time for a backup.

“We will get him in there,” Servais said. “He’s going to play more than once a week, there’s no doubt. Just looking at our schedule, the day games, night games, how it matches up there, but there will be plenty of opportunity to play.”

Playing behind Iannetta could help with Zunino’s development as well. He’s never had a veteran catcher to follow at the big-league level. It always helps to have a little more support and it appears he will have plenty this time up with the Mariners. We will see if that support, along with 287 additional minor-league plate appearances under his belt, will get Zunino on a better track. For now, the development continues at the major-league level.

“He’s taken a great attitude with it and he will get plenty of chance to impact our club,” Servais said.

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