Seattle Mariners

Mariners place Mike Zunino on disabled list with ankle injury, scratch Mitch Haniger

Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino points as he runs to home plate after hitting a solo home run off Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Ian Kennedy during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 29, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino points as he runs to home plate after hitting a solo home run off Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Ian Kennedy during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 29, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Mike Zunino and one Seattle Mariners coordinator shared an “aha” moment while looking over video Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field and trying to find out why Zunino hasn’t felt comfortable with his swing.

“We got out there and seriously watched it and he got in a better position and the first ball to him he’s like, ‘Oh my God, that feels much better,’” said Mike Micucci, the Mariners’ coordinator of organizational instruction. “We went on the field and from the very first swing that he took it was like, ‘All right, that’s it. That’s what it is.’”

He later had some of what Mariners manager Scott Servais said were the best at-bats he’s had all season as far as the look of his swing and plate approach late in Wednesday’s loss to the Angels.

Then the setback – again.

The Mariners announced Thursday that Zunino is headed to the disabled list for the second time this season. He suffered a bone bruise in his left ankle late in Wednesday’s loss and then headed to the 10-day disabled list Thursday afternoon. Servais said their catcher could miss 2-3 weeks.

They also scratched outfielder Mitch Haniger just before Thursday’s game because of a bruised right knee after he crashed into the right field wall a few occasions Wednesday.

Zunino didn’t start Wednesday’s game, but entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. He walked in his first at-bat and then singled in the ninth inning before reaching third base on Denard Span’s double.

Zunino was later thrown out at the plate on Jean Segura’s ground ball to first base.

“I’m not sure what play it happened on,” Servais said. “Maybe when he went first to third on the double.

“I wasn’t aware of it until this morning. He woke up stiff. Not good news, but things happen and hopefully he’s OK.”

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Zunino walked out of the Mariners’ clubhouse just before Thursday’s game wearing a walking boot on his foot.

In the meantime, the Mariners recalled catcher David Freitas from Triple-A Tacoma and that didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Freitas had a hit in each of the previous 10 games he played with the Rainiers and was batting.472 (17-for-36) since he was optioned from the Mariners on June 18.

This is Freitas’ third stint with the Mariners, all transpiring because of injuries to other catchers.

Chris Herrmann took Zunino’s place in Thursday’s starting lineup.

The hardest part for the Mariners was seeing Zunino get injured just as he seemed to regain much of the form he was looking for in his swing.

“His at-bats yesterday were outstanding,” Servais said. “Probably the best at-bats we’ve seen from him. He was seeing the ball and tracking much better. He made an adjustment in his set up and quieted his head down and put a good swing on the ball.

“So disappointing that he’s going to be out.”

Micucci helped Zunino tear down his swing last year in Triple-A Tacoma and shape it into something of the one he currently has.

But Zunino strained his oblique after tearing up spring training and missed the first part of the Mariners season. Since he returned from his first trip to the disabled list, Zunino is batting .189 with 12 home runs and 85 strikeouts in 60 games.

Micucci splits his time between Double-A Arkansas, Triple-A Tacoma and the major leagues and was in town for the homestand this week. He said he vowed to Zuninio on Tuesday that he’d pour over video that night to find out where the issue was.

“When I got back to the hotel I finally got to some stuff I had on my own iPad from when we’re doing stuff in Tacoma and when we were in Iowa right before he got called up,” Micucci said. “It smacked me in the face. ‘Oh my God, we’re not even close to that position anymore.’

“It was such a good feeling when I sent him the video later that night and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be good. We got this.’”

Kyle Seager was there to watch the next afternoon, so were Servais and bench coach Manny Acta who all commented to Micucci on how much more calm Zunino looked in the batter’s box.

The problem?

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They wanted Zunino’s stance to be more narrow than it was the first portion of last season and it worked to the tune of a breakout second half for the 27-year-old catcher. But when Zunino returned from the disabled list off his oblique strain on April 21 and didn’t see the results he wanted, Micucci said he finally noticed Zunino had become too narrow.

“For him to have to fight himself, that was the whole point of him doing what we were doing was for him not to fight himself,” Micucci said. “Just get to his spot and boom, let it roll. And that was the biggest thing – the position he was in, his head was moving so much during his swing.

“We talked about being narrow and we actually got to a point where we got too narrow. Then we went wider, got his head in it a little bit more. His first at-bat (against the Angels) he normally would have chased a lot of pitches. The walk was the best sign for me and then he followed the ball really well and got a base hit in the next at-bat.

“And a lot of this is on me. I told him that. I can’t believe I missed this for so long.”

Now Zunino will have to figure out how to hold on to that feeling while he spends at least the next 10 days on the disabled list, and then through the All-Star break after that, which starts July 16.

“I can’t believe I didn’t notice it sooner than I did,” Micucci said. “Fortunately he’s got a whole second half of the season and I can definitely see him finishing off the year doing a bunch of damage. He’s that gifted.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill
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