Only time will tell whether Mike Zunino’s swing is fixed, but it’s fair to say, after Saturday night, that it’s looking healthier after a seven-RBI performance.
The Mariners continued their recent roll with a 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field. They finished with 16 hits, including a loud 441-foot grand slam by Zunino into the upper deck in left field.
Zunino had a two-run double in a three-run second inning that erased an early deficit and an RBI single in the fourth, but his slam in the fifth inning was the exclamation point.
"There’s a level of confidence," he said, "and that’s much needed. Now I can just sort of look for my pitch now and attack it. I don’t have to worry about where my body is or anything like that.
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"It’s just nice to step in the box and feel like you can hit."
The Mariners have won six of their last seven while outscoring opponents 50-20 in that span. Zunino is 9-for-19 in his last five games and has raised his average from .148 to .206.
"It’s growing every day," he said. "It’s a process. It’s one of those things. I got pitches to hit today. Finding little things to iron out every day. It’s just nice now to have an idea of what I want to accomplish every day."
Zunino’s seven RBIs fell one shy of the franchise record of eight, held jointly by Alvin Davis (1986), Mike Blowers (1995) and Mike Cameron (2001).
Nelson Cruz also hit a homer, his 100th as a Mariner, on a night when 20,000 bobblehead dolls in his image were distributed. Danny Valencia had four hits and raised his average to .276.
Rookie right-hander Sam Gaviglio (2-1) worked five solid innings —one run and four hits — before the Mariners turned to their bullpen. Four relievers over the final four innings.
Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb (4-5) gave up nine runs and 14 hits in five innings and saw his ERA spike from 3.67 to 4.52.
For all that, it didn’t start well. Tampa Bay grabbed a 1-0 led when Corey Dickerson led off the game with a homer to right. It his sixth leadoff homer of the season and his 13th homer overall.
"He’s hot right now," Gaviglio said. "I made a little bit of mistake, and he took advantage of it. I felt good in my warmups, and I was feeling good on the mound today. I didn't want it to affect me.
"It was over with. It’s gone. On to the next hitter."
After Dickerson’s homer, it was all Mariners, who took the lead with three runs in the second inning.
Cruz led off with a double past third baseman Evan Longoria. Kyle Seager’s fly to deep right moved Cruz to third before Valencia lined an RBI single to left.
Jarrod Dyson’s two-out single moved Valencia to second, and both runners scored on Zunino’s double into the right-center gap.
"It was a good sign," manager Scott Servais said, "when he hit that ball to right center to start off, the big double early in the game. It just got better after that."
The Mariners extended their lead to 4-1 in the fourth inning on singles by Valencia, Taylor Motter and Zunino.
Cruz’s one-out homer in the fifth made it 5-1 before the Mariners blew the game open with two outs. Valencia singled, Motter walked and Dyson loaded the bases with a bunt single.
Zunino then crushed a 1-2 splitter, and it was 9-1.
PLAY OF THE GAME: In addition to those four hits, Valencia turned a low liner to first base by Logan Morrison into an unassisted double play in the fourth inning.
PLUS: Gaviglio isn't flashy, but he has a 3.13 ERA after limiting the Rays to one run in five innings…Ben Gamel went 3-for-4 with a walk as the leadoff hitter and is batting .325…the Mariners were 6-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
MINUS: The Mariners had two runners thrown out at the plate. Zunino tried to score from second on Gamel’s two-out single to left in the second inning. The throw by left fielder Colby Rasmus was perfect. Motter tried to score from third in the fourth when a pitch got away from catcher Derek Norris. Not far enough away. Norris retrieved the ball and flipped it to Cobb for the out…Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager were each 0-for-4 — and it didn’t matter.
STAT PACK: Cruz got his 100th homer as a Mariner in 362nd game with the club. That’s the fastest in franchise history by a long way. The second fastest is Richie Sexson in 463 games.
QUOTABLE: "There’s a couple guys in (the Mariners’ lineup) that are seeing the ball well for whatever reason right now," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I mean, Zunino had a huge night tonight. Motter had a big night (Friday) night. Valencia seems to have a lot of success against the Rays for whatever reason."
SHORT HOPS: Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. missed the game because of a personal matter. Bullpen coach Mike Hampton served as the interim pitching coach…Morrison’s homer in the ninth inning against Edwin Diaz was the 100th of his career. He got 28 of those while playing for the Mariners in 2014-15…Norris left the game in the eighth inning because of back spasms.
ON DECK: The Mariners and Rays conclude their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Left-hander Ariel Miranda (5-2 with a 4.17 ERA) will oppose ex-Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (3-0 and 3.66).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
The Mariners have an open date Monday before Minnesota arrives Tuesday for a three-game series. The homestand concludes next weekend with three games against Toronto.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners