CLEVELAND — Mike Zunino’s first full season in the big leagues has been typical for any young talented player with limited professional experience. The peaks are breathtaking and inspiring for Mariners’ fans, while the valleys are longer than expected and a reminder of just how much he was rushed into his current situation.
His batting average has been flirting with the Mendoza line (.212) for much of the season. He also strikes out at a rate of once in every three at bats.
But when the powerful young catcher gets ahold of a pitch and hits it squarely, it’s going somewhere — usually a long ways from home plate.
Cleveland reliever Bryan Cook saw it firsthand on Thursday and could only stare in frustrated disbelief.
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With Kyle Seager on first in the top of the eighth, Zunino crushed a 2-0 cut fastball from Cook over the wall in left field at Progressive Field to provide the go-ahead runs in the Mariners’ 6-5 comeback win over the Indians. Seattle (56-52) won its first series since the Oakland series before the All-Star break.
“I went up with a plan looking for that cutter and I was able to get it,” Zunino said.
It was the second time in three games that Zunino sent a line drive just over the 18-foot wall. This one gave him the team lead in homers with 17.
“It’s a short porch there; I’m just happy to get them over,” he said.
For manager Lloyd McClendon, there is an understanding for patience with Zunino.
“We all know he swings and misses and he’s young kid and he’s still learning,” McClendon said. “He’s dangerous because he’s so strong. And if you make a mistake, he’ll make you pay for it.”
His teammates are amazed by his maturity and early success.
“I couldn’t imagine coming up as quick as he did, it’s crazy,” said Dustin Ackley, who played in 268 minor-league games before his call-up. “For him to be putting up the numbers he has is remarkable, and for him to be playing Gold Glove caliber defense is just crazy to think about.”
To Zunino it’s just another step. He despises the slumps but he understands they happen.
“I feel like I’ve improved from the beginning of the year and that’s all I’m trying to do,” he said. “It’s just a big learning process.”
After Zunino gave Seattle the lead, Brandon Maurer worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Fernando Rodney closed out the game with a scoreless ninth for his 30th save.
The normally unflappable Mariners’ bullpen had been in line for the loss.
Charlie Furbush put the first hitters he faced on base to start the seventh. McClendon called on Danny Farquhar to figure a way out of the jam. But he couldn’t. Carlos Santana punched a 1-2 fastball up the middle to score Ramirez for a 5-4 lead.
Starter Chris Young lasted just 51/3 innings, giving up the four runs on seven hits with two walks and a strikeout.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” McClendon said. “He’s gutsy though. He gave us everything he had till he ran out of gas.”
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