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Mariners notebook: Zunino’s hot start at Tacoma hasn’t gone unnoticed

VIDEO: Mike Zunino crushes 3-run homer

Tacoma Rainiers catcher Mike Zunino hits a three-run home run Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, against the Isotopes.
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Tacoma Rainiers catcher Mike Zunino hits a three-run home run Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, against the Isotopes.

CLEVELAND — Catcher Mike Zunino’s hot start at Triple-A Tacoma is already prompting questions regarding a possible promotion back to the big-league club.

Not so fast.

Yes, the Mariners have noticed. Manager Scott Servias monitors the Rainiers as part of his duties (other coaches have that responsibility for other affiliates). And he and others are fully aware of Zunino’s hefty production.

"He’s having a good week," Servais said. "Good for him. This is what he needs to get some confidence back and feel good about himself. I’ve talked to a few people who have seen him recently.

"The big thing that both of those people said to me is he’s having fun. I think that says a lot. As much as he struggled here the last couple of years, it has to be fun and enjoyable going to the park…it’s nice to get some results."

Zunino, 25, was picked Monday as the Pacific Coast League’s player of the week for April 7-17 and then went out and hit two more homers and drove in four more runs.

Entering Tuesday’s game at El Paso (Padres), Zunino was batting .447 (17-for-38) with six homers and 15 RBIs in nine games. Asked whether Zunino might be in a line for a recall, Servais said: "We won’t see him tomorrow."

And laughed.

The point is clear. Nothing has changed; the Mariners still see this season as a development year for a catcher who turtled against big-league pitching, they believed, because he was promoted too quickly by the previous administration.

Zunino batted .193 (with a .252 on-base percentage) in 295 big-league games from 2013-15, which is why the Mariners moved to acquire Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger through off-season trades.

"It needs to be a process for (Zunino)," Servais said. "And if he does take an 0-for-10, how is he responding to that?…But Mike needed to get off to a good start, which he did. Have success and (experience) confidence-building.

"It’s really, really good for him. And for us."

LEFTY OPPORTUNITIES

With the Mariners scheduled to face two more right-handed pitchers against Cleveland and two more in this weekend’s three-game series at Anaheim, two left-handed hitters each have the opportunity to break out of early slumps.

Third baseman Kyle Seager had his first multi-hit game of the season in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss at Cleveland, while first baseman Adam Lind contributed a double to a paltry six-hit attack.

"Definitely better," Seager said. "I was able to take better swings tonight. That was a positive."

Baby steps. Seager entered at night with a .119 average; it’s now up to .152. Lind gained 10 points from .172 to .182.

"I thought (Lind) swung the bat better (last weekend in New York)," Servais said. "He’s still not quite controlling the strike zone as much as he would like. He does have a track record of doing it."

Lind has a .331 on-base percentage throughout his 11-year career, including a .364 mark over the three previous seasons.

Servais said Seager is "kind of searching for something" at the plate.

"As crazy as it sounds," Servais said, "it can be one at-bat. You take a couple of pitches, or you foul a pitch off, and you feel it. It gets you going. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a double off the wall or a home run.

"It can happen at any point, you get locked in. He’s going to stay in the middle of the lineup. I’m not worried about that one."

OLERUD HONORED

First baseman John Olerud, a Seattle native who spent 4 1/2 seasons with the Mariners, was picked by the Pacific-12 Conference as its "Player of the Century" for his accomplishments from 1987-89 at Washington State.

A 36-member panel selected Olerud along with Mark Prior of Southern California as its pitcher of the century and Southern Cal coach Rod Dedeaux as coach of the century.

Olerud batted .434 in his three years at Washington State while also going 26-4 with a 3.17 ERA as a pitcher. He spent 17 years in the big leagues for five clubs; he played for the Mariners from 2000-04.

Two other notable former Mariners were picked to the Pac-12 All-Century team for their achievements at Southern California: left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson (1983-85) and second baseman Bret Boone (1988-90).

CLUTCH FAILURES

The Mariners entered Tuesday with a .214 average (18-for-84) with runners in scoring position. Sound bad? (It should.) It got worse. They were 0-for-10 in Tuesday’s loss, so that average is down to .191.

Prior to Tuesday, the Mariners were still head of four American League clubs and tied with Oakland. Baltimore led the majors, though Monday, with a .321 average with runners in scoring position. Texas was second among AL clubs at .308.

The four AL clubs worse than than Mariners prior to Tuesday: Kansas City (.213), New York (.210), Houston (.186) and Minnesota (.144).

EARLY WAR RATINGS

Second baseman Robinson Cano and right fielder Nelson Cruz are each off to fast starts, according to the WAR (wins above replacement) ratings compiled by www.Baseball-Reference.com.

Cano ranks seventh among American League batters through Monday at a plus 1.0 rating, while Cruz is 11th at 0.9. Boston third baseman Travis Shaw leads all AL players at plus 1.1.

Right-hander Felix Hernandez ranks third among AL pitchers at plus 0.7. The leader is Detroit’s Jordan Zimmerman at plus 0.9.

WAR seeks to compute the number of wins a player would add to his team above what a typical replacement player would provide. It defines a replacement player as a Triple-A player or a borderline major-league player.

MINOR DETAILS

Right-hander Edwin Diaz delivered a third straight strong start Monday for Double-A Jackson in a 9-3 victory over visiting Birmingham (White Sox).

Diaz, 22, struck out eight while limiting the Barons to one run and two hits in five innings. He is 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA through three starts with 24 strikeouts and two walks in 16 innings.

Right fielder Tyler O’Neill and first baseman D.J. Peterson hit homers in Monday’s victory. O’Neill is batting .317 (13-for-41) with two homers and seven RBIs; Peterson is batting .227 (10-for-44) with one homer and six RBIs.

Diaz was No. 5 in the TNT Top 10 preseason ranking of the organization’s top prospects. O’Neill was No. 9, and Peterson was cited in the Watch List.

LOOKING BACK

It was 26 years ago Wednesday — April 20, 1990 — that Brian Holman came within one out of a perfect game against reigning World Series champion Oakland in front of sellout crowed of 44,911 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Former Mariner Ken Phelps, playing in his final season, wrecked Holman’s gem with a two-out pinch homer in the ninth inning. Phelps hit Holman’s first pitch over the right-field wall.

Holman then struck out Rickey Henderson to complete a 6-1 victory.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners are 4-0 when scoring at least four runs but were 1-7 when scoring three or fewer…by starting Tuesday, lefty Wade Miley has pitched in every big-league park except Target Field in Minneapolis. The Mariners don’t travel to Minnesota until Sept. 23-25…The Mariners have scored 47 runs and allowed 48 runs. They have been outscored 10-1 in third inning but hold a 46-38 advantage in all other innings.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Indians continue their three-game series at 3:05 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday at Progressive Field. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (0-0 with a 2.25 ERA) will face Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar (2-0, 0.79).

The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.

The series concludes at 9:10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday. The Mariners then head to Anaheim for a three-game weekend series that completes their three-city trip.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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