Mike Zunino waits to catch in the bullpen at Mariners spring training. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
The first player to step into the cage for batting practice late Wednesday afternoon, Mike Zunino laced the 10th pitch he saw on a line over Safeco Field’s left-field wall. There, with one short swing, was a reminder of the tantalizing power potential that Zunino has teased over part of five seasons as the Mariners catcher.
That potential is one of the reasons Mariners manager Scott Servais has kept Zunino in the everyday lineup despite a sluggish start to the season. And that won’t change in the immediate future.
“We’re going to stick with Mike right now,” Servais said before Wednesday’s game against the Angels. “I do like the adjustments he’s making. It is a results-driven league, and eventually you have to do a little bit more than we’re doing. I certainly believe he’s got it in him.”
Watching closely from the side of the batting cage Wednesday was assistant Scott Brosius, who then spent several minutes with Zunino one-on-one. As if holding a bat, Brosius held his right hand up above his right ear in the position he wanted Zunino’s to be. Zunino mimicked the hand placement and slowly took several swings.
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Through 22 games, Zunino is hitting .167 with no home runs, two RBIs, a .474 OPS and a team-high 27 strikeouts. He said he’s in the process of fine-tuning his swing with Brosius and hitting coach Edgar Martinez, and he doesn’t believe wholesale changes are needed.
“Obviously,” he said, “I have some swing-and-miss in my swing, but if that happens in the zone and you do that, it’s fine. It’s when you’re missing balls out of the zone and chasing, that’s when you scratch your head and wonder where you’re at. But, you know what, it’s small things now that I can continue to make adjustments on and continue my approach.”
Zunino has long been lauded for his defensive abilities; it’s perhaps the biggest reason the Mariners have been patient with his offensive struggles. But, as Servais said, Zunino knows things must turn around at the plate, and he’s confident that a breakthrough is coming.
“Watching film, it’s just misses pitches by a fraction of an inch,” he said, adding: “It’s one of those things where, when you get there your at-bat seems to be after a long inning (on defense) or something like that, and you really don’t get a chance to catch your breath. But, you know what, it’s part of the game. You enjoy it and you learn from it. And that’s what I’ve been doing here. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work in, and it’ll be nice when that hot streak starts and we can ride that out.”