Mariners Insider Blog

Watchpoints: Progress noted in Zunino’s work in progress

Mike Zunino rounds third base after a homer against the Twins.
Mike Zunino rounds third base after a homer against the Twins. AP

The numbers speak for themselves and are beginning to inch past the characterization of a small sample size.

Catcher Mike Zunino is batting .319 in 20 games for the Mariners since his May 22 recall from Triple-A Tacoma with six homers and 21 RBIs.

He hit a three-run homer against Minnesota ace Ervin Santana in Wednesday’s 6-4 victory and, afterward, offered a look behind the numbers.

"He came with the slider in the first at-bat," Zunino said. "I had in the back of my mind, with runners in scoring position, he could throw the slider again. I was looking for something thigh-high that I could handle."

Santana threw a first-pitch slider, and Zunino handled it 438 feet to center field.

"He’s gone through a lot here," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s made some major changes to his swing. He’s getting results. If anybody’s earned the right to enjoy an extended stretch, it’s Mike Zunino."

It’s more than just swing adjustments. Zunino also changed his pre-game preparation and mental approach — Servais previously dubbed them the "Zunino Rules" — during a brief head-clearing demotion to Tacoma.

What’s notable, too, is the payoff didn’t come immediately once Zunino returned to the Mariners. He endured a 0-for-14 skid in late May before going on a .396 tear (19-for-53) over his last 15 games with five homers and 20 RBIs.

"There’s still growth to this," Zunino said. "I’m still doing stuff and making tweaks. Going to the cage afterward even on days that are good to fine-tune stuff. It’s still something I only started a month-and-a-half ago.

"I’m still trying to find everything and get everything ironed out.

Other watchpoints:

***The game starts at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time with lefty Ariel Miranda (6-2 with a 3.67 ERA) opposing Minnesota right-hander Jose Berrios (5-1, 2.84). It can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.

***The Mariners have two rookies hitting above .330 in left fielder Ben Gamel (.341) and right fielder Mitch Haniger (.340). The only other rookie in baseball with at least 100 plate appearances who is above .300 is Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge (.338).

***Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw 33 of 44 pitches for strikes Wednesday in four shutout innings for Hi-A Modesto in his first rehab start in his recovery from a sore shoulder. He allowed one hit, struck out four and walked none.

***The Mariners won the season series against the Twins for the first time since 2012. They hold a 4-2 edge going into Thursday’s season-series finale.

***Miranda enters Thursday’s start with a streak of six games in which he’s allowed two runs or fewer runs, which is tied for the longest such streak this season in the majors.

***The Mariners have won five of their last six road games after opening the season at 8-20.

***Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar is 15-for-27 in his last seven games.

***The Mariners lead the American League with a .276 average in day games.

***Three Double-A Arkansas players will start for the North Division in the Texas League All-Star Game on June 27 in Frisco, Texas: catcher Tyler Marlette and outfielders Ian Miller and Chuck Taylor. Three Travelers pitchers were also pick to the North team: lefty Zac Curtis and right-handers Tyler Herb and Peter Tago.

TIME CAPSULE

It was seven years ago Thursday — June 15, 2010 — that, with the Mariners playing in St. Louis, a game featured two players with at least 5,000 career at-bats and a career average of at least .330 for the first time in 68 years.

Ichiro Suzuki entered the game at .333, and Albert Pujols at .332.

The last time it happened was 1942 with future Hall of Famers Joe Medwick of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Paul Waner of the Boston Braves.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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