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Zunino shows signs he's shaking off rough start

Mariners catcher, batting .159, slugs 2nd homer in 4 games

SEATTLE -- While Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager have provided plenty of punch in the middle of Seattle's order in the early going, the Mariners are going to need help from other offensive sources to consistently win games this season. And catcher Mike Zunino helped provide a spark from the No. 9 spot on Wednesday with a home run in Seattle's 3-2 win over the Astros.

Zunino is batting just .159 on the season, but his leadoff homer in the third gave Seattle a 2-0 cushion and No. 8 hitter Brad Miller added an RBI single in the fourth that stood up as the winning run after Cruz drove in his league-leading 17th run to get things started.

Video: [email protected]: Cruz drives in Jackson with a single

The homer was Zunino's second in his past four games as he's slowly warmed up.

"I think I'm starting to get some pitches to hit and starting to let myself get into some hitter's counts," said the 24-year-old catcher. "Today I was able to get into a 3-2 count and get a pitch I could hit. I didn't try to do too much and was able to hit the ball hard."

Zunino set a Seattle record for home runs by a catcher last season with 22, so power has never been his issue. But he's working to improve his plate coverage and manager Lloyd McClendon said he's seeing positive signs.

"It's getting better," McClendon said. "He's gaining his confidence. He had a two-strike base hit last night, which I thought was big. And tonight he had good at-bats. It was good."

"When you feel like you're always in an 0-2 hole, it's tough to fight out of those and have good at-bats sometimes," Zunino said. "You need to have a couple good two-strike at-bats and build on that and get some hits."

Veteran pitcher J.A. Happ said he's been impressed by the young backstop's ability to maintain his defensive mindset even while dealing with a tough start at the plate.

"He seems to be doing a great job. It's tough to separate," Happ said. "You have to go back out there and change your frame of mind from offense to defense. He's done a great job and the more confidence he gets, I think you're going to see him really take off."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Mike Zunino