Zunino takes hands-back approach

Staff writerFebruary 17, 2014 

PEORIA, Ariz. — The tweaking of Mike Zunino’s swing is one of the developing storylines in the early days of Seattle Mariners spring training.

Zunino, 22, batted .214 last year as a rookie in 52 games — that after batting .227 in 52 games at Triple-A Tacoma before his promotion.

“We talked about getting my hands all the way back in a good, strong position,” Zunino said. “I just want to get my hands into that full-load position.

“Where I had them felt comfortable, but they just weren’t quite all the way back. We talked about that and did a couple of drills to work on that. That’s what I’m going to be working on from here on out.”

Zunino batted a combined .360 in 44 games at Single-A short-season Everett and Double-A Jackson in 2012 after the Mariners drafted him third overall out of the University of Florida. He now believes his rapid rise to the majors led to some bad habits.

“Getting called up,” he said, “you want to show you can hit. I think I got a little too anxious because I wanted to do too much. I think it was a good learning experience to see I have to trust myself and use the whole field.”

Zunino began to implement the change Saturday under the supervision of hitting coach Howard Johnson with an assist from manager Lloyd McClendon, who spent the past seven years as the Detroit Tigers’ hitting coach.

“Look, Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the world,” McClendon said. “He makes adjustments all of the time. You have to make adjustments. You have to adjust to the pitching in this league.

“We’re just trying to get him to a consistent launch position where it’s strong and explosive so he can drive the ball to all fields.”

It makes for some long days: Zunino is also trying to hone his catching skills while gaining a working knowledge of the 36 pitchers in camp.

“Luckily, it’s something we saw now,” he said, “and we have all spring to work on it. A lot of my time is working with pitchers and on defense, but I’ll grab some time with HoJo (Johnson) and do that before or after.”

RAMIREZ’S OPPORTUNITY

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez fought his way back to the rotation last year after opening the season on the disabled list because of tendinitis in his right triceps.

His challenge is to retain that slot in a competitive camp.

“He has a very consistent arm-slot delivery,” McClendon said. “That’s his M.O. He’s a strike-thrower. He doesn’t walk guys. He can manipulate the strike zone — in and out, up and down. It’s a very good quality to have.”

Ramirez, 23, was 5-3 with a 4.98 earned-run average last season in 14 games, including 13 starts. He also had 57 strikeouts and 26 walks in 72 innings.

“Ideally for us,” McClendon said, “we’d like to see this guy as a starter. Keep him in a starting role, and let him flourish.”

GOING SLOW

McClendon is planning a cautious approach this spring with newcomers Corey Hart and Logan Morrison — first basemen/outfielders who are coming off knee injuries.

“I’m going to bring them along very slowly,” McClendon said. “Ideally, we’d like to see them get some time in the outfield as well as first base, but their health is going to dictate a lot of that.”

Hart, 31, missed all of last season while recovering from surgery on both knees. He signed a one-year deal in December as a free agent.

Morrison, 26, missed parts of the past two seasons because of an injured right knee. The Mariners acquired him in December from the Miami Marlins for reliever Carter Capps.

“Now, they’re both healthy,” McClendon said, “and I want to keep it that way. So we’re going to move real slow in that process, but you’ll see them out there this spring. You’ll see Hart more than Morrison in right field. Morrison will be more first base and DH.”

MUSIC MAN

The Mariners’ workouts are taking place to the accompaniment of an eclectic musical mix piped across the practice fields.

“We did that in Detroit,” said McClendon, who spent the previous eight seasons on the Tigers’ staff. “It just livens things up. Heck, I don’t want to be out there bored, either. I can dance a little bit. Not a lot.

“Look, this is a players’ game. I told our video guy, ‘Get a couple of songs from each player. Nothing lewd or obnoxious. Mix it. Put it out there. Country, rap, R&B … whatever it is. And let them have fun with it.’ ”

ON MONDAY

It won’t be just another day Monday for bullpen workouts. Right-handers Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are slotted for their first sessions.

For Walker, it will mark the first serious test for a sore shoulder that delayed his work schedule. He has participated in all other camp activities.

Monday’s workout is also the last official session for just pitchers and catchers. The 14 infielders and 11 outfielders on the 68-player camp roster are scheduled to participate in Tuesday’s workout.

bob.dutton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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