OAKLAND, Calif. – Veteran catcher Henry Blanco joined the Mariners on Friday to begin his new job as the unofficial tutor of Mike Zunino.
The Mariners added Blanco on the same day they designated for assignment catcher Kelly Shoppach. Both Shoppach and Blanco were sub-.200-hitting backups this season, but the off-field intangibles are what the Mariners say pushed them to go with one over the other.
“We felt that for somebody to work alongside Zunino, there probably was nobody better at that position,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
And that means the M’s are looking to keep former first-round draft pick Zunino in the majors as their regular catcher a lot longer than another week or so.
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“We’re going to work off of him but you’ve got to give him some time,’’ Wedge said. “You take advantage of opportunities when you get them. Whether it be acquiring a player like Blanco or giving Zunino a chance to play some. We’ll just go back and forth with those guys. Mike will get the bulk of the playing time. But we can play it as slow as we need to play it.’’
Blanco, 41, who replaces Raul Ibanez as Seattle’s oldest player, was released earlier in the week by the Toronto Blue Jays. He’d gone 7 for 38 (.184) with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .525 after signing with Toronto this winter despite being pursued by the Mariners and other teams.
Shoppach, 33, went 21 for 107 (.196) with a .638 OPS, but his numbers had been in a free fall for a month since being given additional playing time.
Blanco has done his share of catcher mentoring before. He helped break in Geovany Soto with the Chicago Cubs when he won NL Rookie of the Year honors and went on to help Miguel Montero in Arizona.
Blanco said he’s not shy about giving advice.
“Sometimes, I’ll just go to them if I see something in the game, I’ll just let them know,’’ he said.
• The Mariners will give closer Tom Wilhelmsen a few outings in non-save situations before reinserting him as the closer again. Wedge said he’ll go with an assortment of relief pitchers in the ninth inning, depending on the situation and how the hitters match up.
• Jason Bay hit a leadoff single to start Friday night’s game and now has reached base in 20 of 22 contests against the Athletics in his career. He entered the night 23 for 70 (.329) with a .466 on-base percentage that is second-highest against Oakland of any active player behind Todd Helton.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.