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Mariners activate Zunino; Paxton near return

Left-hander on track to start Tuesday vs. Giants; Freitas optioned to Triple-A
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- The Mariners took another step toward returning to full strength Sunday as catcher Mike Zunino was activated off the 10-day disabled list and inserted in the lineup for the afternoon's series finale against the White Sox.

Seattle also expects to get starter James Paxton off the DL on Tuesday to start the series opener against the Giants at Safeco Field.

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SEATTLE -- The Mariners took another step toward returning to full strength Sunday as catcher Mike Zunino was activated off the 10-day disabled list and inserted in the lineup for the afternoon's series finale against the White Sox.

Seattle also expects to get starter James Paxton off the DL on Tuesday to start the series opener against the Giants at Safeco Field.

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Catcher David Freitas was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to open a spot for Zunino, who had been sidelined since July 5 with a bone bruise on his left ankle. The 27-year-old played two rehab games in Tacoma, going 1-for-5 with an RBI.

Zunino has hit just .189 this season for Seattle, but has 12 home runs and 29 RBIs in 60 games and has been outstanding defensively.

Among catchers with at least 400 innings played, he ranks third in the Majors with six Defensive Runs Saved, per FanGraphs.

The Mariners are 36-18 in games started by Zunino this year, compared to 23-22 when he's not in the lineup, including 4-8 while he was on the DL the past two weeks.

"We've missed him behind the plate and hopefully we can get his bat going, too," manager Scott Servais said. "He knows the league so well. Probably most importantly, he has a good rapport with all our pitchers in understanding their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them through innings.

"I think David Freitas does a good job with that as well. Z is a little more accomplished all-around player, obviously, and it's good to have your regular guy back there."

Freitas was recalled from Tacoma when Zunino went on the DL and hit .111 (2-for-18) with one home run in six games. The 29-year-old is batting .192 in 78 at-bats in 29 games overall this season.

Freitas' departure leaves Chris Herrmann as the backup to Zunino. Herrmann's put up a .216/.341/.405 line with one homer and two RBIs in 37 at-bats over 15 games.

Worth noting

• Paxton came out of a 40-pitch bullpen throwing session on Saturday with no issues with the stiff lower back that forced him to the 10-day DL prior to the All-Star break. He'll slide back into the rotation on Tuesday, as expected, after missing one start.

The big lefty threw just 17 pitches and gave up a pair of home runs in two-thirds of an inning in his last outing on July 7 at Colorado.

"He felt fine, threw all his pitches and got after it in his bullpen, so no hesitation about bringing him back," Servais said.

Erasmo Ramirez, on the 10-day DL since May 1 with a strain in his right shoulder, will make a second rehab start in Tacoma on either Tuesday or Wednesday. The 28-year-old right-hander threw two perfect innings in his first outing for Tacoma on Friday.

• Right-handed reliever Dan Altavilla, who has been sidelined the past six weeks with a strained elbow, is playing catch at 90 feet as he begins ramping up his throwing program in an attempt to get back for the stretch run.

"No issues at all, his elbow feels good," Servais said. "We'll keep stretching him out before he gets on the mound."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton, Mike Zunino