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Zunino gets call quicker than Seattle expected

With catching depth thin, Mariners promote last year's third overall pick

SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik acknowledged the time frame has been accelerated by circumstances, but the club is eager to see what 2012 first-round Draft choice Mike Zunino can contribute after calling the 22-year-old catcher up from Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday.

Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, arrived at Safeco Field in time to take batting practice before Tuesday's game against the Astros. And while he wasn't in the lineup his first day, manager Eric Wedge said the former Florida All-American will be given an opportunity soon for a team whose only experienced catcher is Kelly Shoppach after injuries to Jesus Montero and Jesus Sucre.

"I don't think I could have pictured this a year ago, that this is where I'd be," Zunino said. "It's exceeded everything I've ever dreamed of. So I'll just embrace it and take it as it comes."

Shoppach, 33, has caught 54 of the 61 innings since Sucre hurt his left hand last Tuesday, including every pitch in a 16-inning marathon on Wednesday.

Brandon Bantz, Zunino's backup at Triple-A Tacoma, was promoted last week and started one game, as the club initially thought Sucre's absence would be temporary. But Sucre went on the 15-day disabled list Saturday, and Seattle realized it needed a more permanent solution.

Bantz was designated for assignment to make room for Zunino on the roster.

Zunino, 22, has hit .238 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 47 games for Tacoma this year, with a .303 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage. He'll split time with Shoppach for now, and the club will make another decision on his future once Sucre is healthy.

"Some of that will depend on him," Wedge said. "He doesn't have to come up here and play every day. That's not something he has to do. But he's going to play, and play consistently. We'll just see how it plays out."

Montero started the season as Seattle's starting catcher, but was demoted to Tacoma two weeks ago, then underwent surgery this past week after tearing the meniscus in his right knee. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Thus, Zunino's arrival was hastened when the club learned that Sucre was also going to be out at least a few weeks with his hand injury.

"We had a little bit of a later target date," Zduriencik said. "But when you look at we had an injury right now, there's no harm in bringing him up. Let's see where we're at."

There's only one way to find out if Zunino is ready, and he said he's up for that challenge.

"For me, all I can do is go out and play the best ball I can," Zunino said. "If I can help the ball team in any way, that to me is being ready. That's what I'm going to try to do."

The Mariners have been rebuilding their farm system in recent years, and Zunino is one of the prime players in that system, but Zduriencik is preaching patience.

"He's a mature kid," Zduriencik said. "We were all impressed with what he did in Spring Training. But I don't think anybody here is expecting miracles. We're not looking like he's the answer. We're just looking as we put this together and where we're at right now, we know he's going to be a guy that is counted on going forward, and it's the right thing to do at this time for him. So we'll bring him up here, give him a chance to play and see how it works out."

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