New approach paying off for Zunino

Mariners catcher homers twice in walk-off win over Twins

June 8th, 2017

SEATTLE -- If you think Mike Zunino looks like a different guy since returning from Triple-A Tacoma two and a half weeks ago, you're not alone.

The Mariners catcher has gone from A to Z this season in his hitting approach, and the new plan clearly is working as the 26-year-old has hit .302 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 13 games -- including a pair of homers and the walk-off winner in Wednesday's 6-5 victory over the Twins.

Compare that to the guy who was batting .167 with no homers and two RBIs in his first 24 games before being demoted to Triple-A and, well, there's not much comparison.

"He homered on a pitch he probably wouldn't even have hit in the beginning of the season," manager Scott Servais said of the game-winner, a mammoth 437-foot shot to right-center with a 111 mph exit velocity. "The most exciting thing for me is the swing he took, he wasn't trying to pull the ball out of the park. He just put a good swing on it. He's very strong, very gifted, a lot of power. He just has to make good contact."

It hasn't all been easy for Zunino. He went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts on Tuesday night in a 12-3 win. But Servais said the former first-round Draft pick has a plan now and knows how to coach himself back into the new approach he's been working on since his midseason makeover at Tacoma.

"He's bought in and he understands," Servais said. "He's been able to make adjustments. Last night he struck out three times and I asked him today and he knew right away what he was going to go to. 'I got a little quick, I have to slow my leg kick down, my timing is going to be fine and I'll be OK.' Just getting that response back versus the wide-eyed, 'I don't know,' he's a much, much different player right now."

He'll get no argument from Zunino, who stuck with his approach against sinker-balling closer and got his reward by not trying to pull the ball, but just staying with the pitch off the plate and driving it the opposite way.

"That's sort of the swing the last month has been trying to get to," Zunino said. "It's just something with learning your swing, the pitch selection you want to go to and ultimately trusting it. That's sort of the goal in batting practice and cage work. I'm really trying to shoot that ROOT Sports sign in right-center in BP. To be able to get a pitch and do that in a game is really fun."

So is contributing to a winning team and all his teammates have enjoyed his success as much as Zunino himself.

"It's huge," said . "He went down there, made some real adjustments and it's tough. He's a competitive guy and ultra-talented. It's definitely been tough for him, but he's battled through it and been professional the whole time. He never lost track of the pitching and catching side of it. It's been pretty impressive to watch what he's done."