SEATTLE -- Mike Zunino's strained left oblique isn't as serious as similar injuries to teammates Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger over the past year, manager Scott Servais said Saturday, and the Mariners are hopeful their starting catcher could be ready to rejoin the team midway through its first road trip next week.
Servais said the catcher has a Grade 1 strain, the lowest level, compared to a Grade 2 or 3 for Gamel and Haniger. Gamel has been sidelined for four weeks, but he could be ready to begin a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma when the Rainiers open their season on Thursday. Haniger missed six weeks last season with his oblique injury.
The Mariners are optimistic that Zunino won't be out nearly as long. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Friday, retroactive to Tuesday, which means he would be eligible to return next Saturday in Minnesota.
Servais noted that projected temperatures in the 20s in Minneapolis might not be best for a return from a strained muscle, though, but the belief is clearly that Zunino's absence won't be too extensive.
That is welcome news to the 27-year-old catcher as he comes off a strong Spring Training.
"It's frustrating. I wish there was a word that's more than that," Zunino said. "You know it's part of the game, but for the anticipation of the season and what we had in store as a team, it's not how you want to get off to a start. But I'm trying to get healthy as soon as I can so I can help this team as long as I can."
Servais noted that Zunino was the player he least wanted to lose entering the regular season because of his value to the pitching staff and how well he was hitting. Zunino had five home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.249 OPS over 17 Cactus League games.
"I don't think it's going to detract from what he's able to do this season for us, but you hate to see him start out behind the eight ball," Servais said. "It's going to take him a little while to get going. He's a big part of our team. There's no doubt. The confidence level and how he's carried himself after what he went through last year, it's been really a positive for us. So it's a little disappointing, but it's not the end of the world. The big thing is we don't lose him for a month or six weeks. We lose him for seven to 10 days."
Mike Marjama will assume the starting role behind the plate, and David Freitas was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma. Servais said both rookies will share time in Zunino's absence.
"It's a bummer for the club," Marjama said. "To see Mike start off on the DL is definitely disappointing in terms of the excitement we have for his development and where he's at and being a leader on this ballclub. But for us, I think me and Freit are going to be able to carry the weight until he gets back.
"We're excited for Mike to get back, whenever that is. But until then, me and Freit are going to do what we do to carry this team and make sure we keep winning some games."
Gamel, Ramirez take steps toward returns
Erasmo Ramirez threw a 25-pitch simulated-game situation against Gamel during Friday's off-day at Safeco Field as the two injured players continued working toward their returns from the disabled list.
Ramirez strained his right lat during the first week of Spring Training, and Gamel has been sidelined by a right oblique strain since March 2. Both players could be ready to open the year with Triple-A Tacoma. Ramirez figures to need a few outings to build up his arm before rejoining the Mariners as their No. 5 starter in late April, but Gamel could be ready sooner, assuming he doesn't experience any setbacks.
Gamel took part again in batting practice with the club on Saturday without any issues.
"Ben is progressing ahead of schedule," Servais said. "His [oblique strain] was different than what Haniger had last year, a different spot, and our medical people thought he would come back a little bit quicker. They're even surprised he's adapted and made the adjustments and feels good this quickly."