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Streaky Zunino homers, remains on upswing

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

NEW YORK -- Much like his Mariners, catcher Mike Zunino has been streaky this year. But fortunately for Seattle, the 26-year-old backstop seems to be heating up again at an opportune time.

With his team fighting to hang in the American League Wild Card chase, Zunino went 3-for-5 with a home run and a double in Friday's 2-1, 11-inning win against the Yankees. He's batting .387 (12-for-31) with five doubles and a pair of home runs in his last 10 games.

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NEW YORK -- Much like his Mariners, catcher Mike Zunino has been streaky this year. But fortunately for Seattle, the 26-year-old backstop seems to be heating up again at an opportune time.

With his team fighting to hang in the American League Wild Card chase, Zunino went 3-for-5 with a home run and a double in Friday's 2-1, 11-inning win against the Yankees. He's batting .387 (12-for-31) with five doubles and a pair of home runs in his last 10 games.

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Zunino had a huge June for Seattle when he hit .304 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs, but then hit just .160 with six homers and 10 RBIs in his next 31 games prior to his recent warming trend.

"'Z' is really swinging the bat well," manager Scott Servais said. "He's got the feel back again that he did earlier in the season, and he's doing a great job behind the plate. I think everybody has seen the improvement he's made accuracy-wise with his throwing.

"His whole game right now has really come together at a critical time for us. We certainly need it. The bottom of our lineup tonight really boosted us, and he's a big part of that."

Zunino provided Seattle's first key run with a fourth-inning homer off CC Sabathia, driving a 2-0 changeup 377 feet into the left-field seats for his 19th long ball of the season.

The former first-round Draft pick is now three homers shy of his career-best 22 set in his first full season in the Majors in 2014, but he batted just .199 that year. Even with his lengthy six-week slump from July to mid-August, Zunino is batting .231 this season, and the Mariners can live with that sort of production from a catcher who provides strong leadership and defense as well.

Zunino said he made such a major adjustment to his hitting approach earlier this year that he's still ironing out mechanics-wise, and he feels a recent adjustment has helped immensely.

"I'm getting there," he said. "Obviously I made some quick changes and June was nice and rewarding in the sense of results. Then probably about two weeks ago I tweaked something with my hands to help me gather myself and load, and that's really felt good since then.

"It's sort of the second phase of making this swing adjustment. I've been feeling better up there, feeling more free and easy and able to get my swing off."

In addition to his home run on Friday, Zunino singled in the second and doubled in the ninth off hard-throwing Dellin Betances, then laced a hard smash up the middle that wound up a tough out in the 11th just before Yonder Alonso hit the game-winning homer off Aroldis Chapman.

"This was a big win for us," Zunino said. "We had good at-bats all night, our pitching did a great job keeping us in that ballgame. There were a couple big bases-loaded jams we got out of. This was a big one for us and hopefully we can keep rolling tomorrow."

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

Seattle Mariners, Mike Zunino