ARLINGTON -- How hot is Mike Zunino? Consider this: It's mid-June, with 11 games left to play this month, and the 26-year-old has already broken the Mariners record for most RBIs in a month by a catcher after cranking a three-run homer in Seattle's 10-4 loss to the Rangers on
ARLINGTON -- How hot is Mike Zunino? Consider this: It's mid-June, with 11 games left to play this month, and the 26-year-old has already broken the Mariners record for most RBIs in a month by a catcher after cranking a three-run homer in Seattle's 10-4 loss to the Rangers on Saturday at Globe Life Park.
While the Mariners are suddenly struggling again -- losing for the seventh time in the past 10 games in falling back to 33-37 this season, Zunino is on a red-hot tear at the plate.
His 22 RBIs this month broke the club record of 21 set by Mariners Hall of Fame catcher Dan Wilson in April of 1996, and his 463-foot blast off Martin Perez on Saturday was the longest homer struck by the Mariners this year.
Not only was it the Mariners' longest home run, it was the longest home run by any Major League catcher this season. In fact, since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015, there have only been two longer home runs by catchers -- a 465-foot homer by Cameron Rupp last July, and a 464-footer by J.P. Arencibia in September 2015.
"I hit it well," Zunino said. "I was fortunate enough to finally get a changeup up. He had a really good changeup today and a great sinker off that. He sort of kept coming at me with them and I had a feeling 3-2 he may throw it so I was looking for something up and was able to put a good swing on it."
Sent down to Triple-A Tacoma after hitting .167 in his first 24 games, Zunino has returned with a vengeance -- and an improved batting approach.
Since May 29, he's hitting .393 with 10 runs, five doubles, six homers and 23 RBIs in a 17-game stretch to raise his average from .148 to .248.
"Z is on a great run," said manager Scott Servais. "He's got a lot of confidence, just the quality of at-bats. There are still some tough ones, like anybody is going to have a few tough at-bats here or there. But he's hanging in there and continuing to make good adjustments through the course of a game, understanding what pitchers are doing to him now.
"And he's really trusting himself, trusting the swing and the mechanics and new stuff he's adapted to his game. I tip my hat to him. I'm happy for him."
Despite spending two and a half weeks in Tacoma re-working his stance and swing, Zunino now has four of the team's six longest home runs this season. His 463-foot blast to dead center was 20 feet farther than Robinson Cano's previous team-long of 443 on May 30 in Colorado and ranks 18th in MLB this year.
Zunino's previous long was 441 feet on April 17 at Safeco Field against the Marlins and he's also hit shots of 438 and 437 feet. Nelson Cruz, one of baseball's biggest boppers, has a season-long of 437.
The fact Zunino could hit a ball that far to straightaway center without having to pull it is a testament both to his strength and improved approach as he's worked hard on taking the ball up the middle and staying on pitches longer.
"That's been the focus," he said. "That's helped me get on off-speed pitches and helped me drive fastballs that way. Really, I'm not trying to pull the ball. The at-bat when I grounded to third the time before, even the groundout there I wish I'd stayed on it more. That's really been the focus."
Zunino's career has been marked with long rough stretches at the plate and he'll need to maintain this approach to prove he's truly at a new level. But his current hot streak has clearly bolstered his confidence and he knows now what works for him.
"I think having the ability to do that is nice," he said. "There are still some things I want to iron out, pitches I need to handle and counts I need to get better in. But definitely, the swing is going in the right direction."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [