Zunino enters the 2017 season as the starting catcher, primarily due to his outstanding defensive skills, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports.
The 2012 third overall pick will finally get first crack at the starting job from the onset of a campaign. Zunino began last season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he slashed a solid .286/.376/.521 with 17 homers and 57 RBI over 79 games. He receive a mid-July call-up to the big league club and was even better there in the early going, smacking two homers in his first game and generating a .280/.396/.707 line with five doubles, nine homers and 21 RBI over his first 26 contests. The torrid pace wasn't sustainable over the long term, however, as Zunino hit just .146 with two doubles, three homers and 10 RBI over the final 29 games of the season. The Mariners are willing to live with those offensive inconsistencies due to the 25-year-old's stellar defense, as they consider his ability to handle the pitching staff to be at a near-elite level. The team also appears to have found an ideal veteran complement in former All-Star Carlos Ruiz, whom they acquired in a Nov. 7 trade with the Dodgers. According to manager Scott Servais, although he envisions Zunino as the clear-cut starter, he'll leverage Ruiz's presence to potentially give the former more days off than a typical first-string backstop. "Understand we're not looking forward for Mike Zunino to play or catch 125 or 130 games," Servais said. "That's not the point. So when he does hit a little funk and we need to give him a few days off, we've got Ruiz to step in there and let him play a few days. I think it's a good mix."
Zunino is out of the lineup Sunday against the Athletics, MLB.com's Greg Johns reports.
Zunino had started each of the last four games behind the plate, so he'll be given a breather in the season finale. Chris Iannetta gets the nod behind the plate.
Zunino hit a solo homer Thursday for his 12 home run of the season.
The strides Zunino made at the plate this year at Triple-A have disappeared in the last five weeks or so. In his last 26 games, he's batting .159 with three home runs and two doubles. He is still the primary catcher, but his 2017 role is a bit more uncertain now than it looked this summer.
Zunino has gone just 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts over the last four games. With the left-handed J.A. Happ starting for Toronto, Zunino will give way to Chris Iannetta behind the dish.
Zunino homered for the second straight game, taking rookie Raul Alcantara deep in the second inning. Despite spending the first three months of the season in the minors, he's already matched his home run total (11) from last year in 72 fewer games. Zunino whiffs too much (career 32.0 percent strikeout rate heading into Sunday) to hit for a good average, but few backstops can match his power potential.
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