Two days and two games was enough.
Actually, it was too many to Mike Zunino’s liking. But the Seattle Mariners’ catcher was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Sunday for their series finale against the Chicago White Sox, taking the place of catcher David Freitas, who was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma.
Zunino spent the past two games in Tacoma in rehab starts to get his timing back at the plate. Mariners manager Scott Servais said Zunino has felt ready to return physically from the bone bruise in his ankle that left him in a walking boot.
“The ankle is not bothering him at all,” Servais said. “We’ve missed him. Hopefully we can get him back and going behind the plate and hopefully get his bat going, too.”
Zunino injured his ankle running the bases in a July 4 game against the Angels. The Mariners went 4-8 with him on the DL. The Mariners are 36-19 in games he’s started at catcher.
And the Mariners are 10-2 in games Zunino has hit a home run.
That should say how important now only his presence behind the plate is to the Mariners’, but how much more so when his bat is right.
“Going back to probably the fourth of July when I got hurt, the at-bats since then have really felt under control,” Zunino said. “I feel like I’ve bene way more under control and recognizing pitches better and I think ultimately that’s going to lead to more success.”
Zunino is hitting .189 this season with 12 home runs in 60 games (and 85 strikeouts), but then he had some extensive on-field work with Mariners roving coordinator Mike Micucci, who helped Zunino overhaul his swing last season that led to his breakout second half of the season.
Some mechanical adjustments seemed to pay off later that July 4 night against the Angels … until the injury.
About the same thing happened in the spring, when he was one of the Mariners’ top hitters during spring training before he went to the DL the day before the season opener because of a strained oblique.
That DL trip cost him some progress in his swing then, so Servais was hoping some time in Triple-A Tacoma after this DL stint will help him ease back into big-league play better this time.
“He thought he was ready to go (Saturday),” Servais said. “And he came in and we had a long discussion on where he’s at. Just thought it best to give him one more game and if he had any issues last night (in Tacoma) we’d get him there again today. But he felt good and I trust the people who are seeing him and I certainly trust the players.”
Zunino went 1-for-3 on Saturday for the Rainiers with an RBI.
Servais said one of the things they noticed was for how much they wanted Zunino to narrow his stance as he overhauled his swing last year, they saw him start to overcompensate and get too narrow.
“They wanted to spread it out just a little bit and going back to when Mike originally made the swing overhaul last year, they went and pulled up some old video there of right when he was starting out and where he was at presently – it did not look at all like what he started out with,” Servais said. “So we were just trying to get back to that.”
Zunino was at Safeco Field early Saturday working on the field with Micucci, especially on driving the ball to right-center field.
The only two catchers to have a higher wins-above-replacement than Zunino, according to Fangraphs, last season were the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. The only catchers to have more home runs were Sanchez (33) and the Royals’ Salvador Perez (27).
The only players to hit over .280 with 24 or more home runs and at least a .580 slugging percentage after May 29, like Zunino did when he returned from Tacoma, were Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto.
“I just want to help this team,” Zunino said. “I feel like we were in a good rhythm with the pitching staff and I want to come back and help those guys and hopefully as the bat comes around, hopefully I can help that way, too.”
Left-hander James Paxton threw all of his pitches in a Saturday bullpen session and Servais said they will have no issues activated him from the disabled list to start Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants at Safeco Field.
Paxton went to the 10-day DL before the All-Star break with back stiffness, but Servais said that was more a product of the calendar than severity of the injury. He said Paxton probably wouldn’t have headed to the DL if the Mariners weren’t able to get the four-day break.
“No hesitations about bringing him back” Servais said.
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez tossed two scoreless innings, struck out three batters and didn’t allow a runner to reach base in his first rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma on Friday since heading to the disabled list in late April with a strained right teres major. Servais said they’ll push him to three innings in his next projected rehab start, either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Also, right-handed reliever Dan Altavilla (strained ulnar collateral ligament) began his throwing program, extending out to throws from 90 feet with no issues, Servais said.
The Mariners have Monday off before a two-game home series with the San Francisco Giants. Paxton (8-4, 3.70 ERA) is slated to start against left-hander Andrew Suarez (3-6, 3.94 ERA) in the 7:10 p.m. Tuesday game, which will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.