Mike Zunino #3 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after knocking in the go ahead run against the Boston Red Sox in the eleventh inning at Fenway Park on August 16, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
by Curtis Crabtree
SAFECO FIELD - The Seattle Mariners have re-called catcher Mike Zunino from Triple-A Tacoma after backup catcher Steve Clevenger suffered a broken hand Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Zunino was batting .282 at Tacoma with 15 homers and 51 RBIs in 69 games. In his last 14 games, he’s hitting .358 with a double, two home runs and 10 RBIs.
“Mike obviously has Major League experience with our club,” manager Scott Servais said. “There was a plan put in place this offseason and throughout spring training to give him the opportunity to re-group and go to Triple-A and work on some things. He got off to a great start down there. I’ve talked to (Rainiers manager) Pat Listach and (hitting coach) Scott Brosius quite a bit about Mike and it’s been better. The at-bats have been better. He’s been a productive hitter and controlled the strike zone better. He was the guy to go to.”
Zunino struggled offensively with Seattle last season and was demoted to Tacoma for the end of the season. He hit just .174 over 350 at-bats in 112 games for the Mariners last season. But with no better options to replace him, Zunino continued to play nearly every day.
Seattle planned on keeping Zunino in the minor leagues for a significant portion of this season. If Clevenger hadn't broke a bone in his hand, Zunino would still be in Triple-A. But given the available options, Zunino was clearly the most apt replacement with Clevenger set to miss many weeks.
“I knew he would be back at some point,” Servais said. “I didn’t know if it would be June 1st, July 1st or August 1st. Sometimes the situations and circumstances dictate that. It’s kind of what happened here. But he’s earned it. He’s made some adjustments. He’s made strides. He still does a great job behind the plate.”
Clevenger broke the third metacarpal in his right hand when a foul ball from Andrew McCutcheon was redirected directly into the knuckle on his exposed throwing hand.
Clevenger said Thursday that he will have surgery to repair the damage. While it was a clean break, doctors want to make sure it heals correctly. The belief is that he'll be able to return later this season.
Servais said Zunino would certainly play more than once a week, which gives him the opportunity to rest Chris Iannetta a bit more regularly as well.
Zunino will now get the opportunity to test his retooled approach in the big leagues.
“I feel like I’ve definitely grown and I’ve definitely learned a lot of things about myself as a player and a hitter,” Zunino said. “It tests you a person too. I’ve learned to break things down and view them for what they are. I would get too wrapped up in things. For me, right now, it’s just taking it for what it is, breaking it down and fixing the problem.”
In addition, the Mariners brought back right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen and optioned Donn Roach back to Tacoma.
Roach allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings of work in three appearances for Seattle.