Iannetta is giving the Mariners consistent production at the plate, something Zunino couldn’t do last season. Zunino, meanwhile, is abusing PCL pitching, with six home runs in his past five games.

Share story

NEW YORK — In spring training, the Mariners had two catchers trying to bounce back from the worst seasons of their careers, but with the odd juxtaposition that one was brought into replace the other.

It was a calculated move by general manager Jerry Dipoto to address the Mariners’ abysmal situation at the position.

He signed free agent Chris Iannetta — a player he knew with the Rockies and had acquired as GM of the Angels — in the offseason, believing he would bounce back from an awful 2015.

Meanwhile, last year’s starter, Mike Zunino, was ticketed for Class AAA Tacoma to regain his confidence, re-work his swing and revamp his approach at the plate without the pressure of producing in the big leagues. Essentially, the Mariners gave Zunino back some of the developmental time that had been taken from him with his premature promotion to the majors in 2013 by then-GM Jack Zduriencik.

Almost three weeks into the 2016 season, the plan seems to be working.

Iannetta is giving the Mariners consistent production at the plate, something Zunino couldn’t do last season. Iannetta is hitting .276 with two homers, five RBI and a .400 on-base percentage in 10 games.

Zunino, meanwhile, is abusing Pacific Coast League pitching. He has blasted six home runs in his past five games, including two Monday in a loss at Albuquerque.

Iannetta had a big weekend for the Mariners, including a 3-for-3 performance in Friday’s win at Yankee Stadium. He homered and reached base all four times he came to the plate.

Mariners catchers had only three three-hit games last season — Zunino twice and Jesus Sucre once. And no catcher reached base four times in a game.

“I’m starting to feel comfortable, which is nice,” Iannetta said. “I’m trying to detach myself from any of the results and just focus on the process, and so far it’s been OK.”

So far it has been better than the start to last season when he hit .093 in April.

“It feels better to do well than be 6 for 70,” he said. “That was a rough stretch.”

You know it’s rough, when you can rattle off the bad stats without having to look them up. Iannetta already has eight hits this season. That slow start last season led to a .188 batting average and .293 on-base percentage for the season. Those numbers aren’t easy to forget, either.

“It weighed on me from the beginning of last season, all through last season, through my workouts in the offseason, every day in spring training, it was definitely on my mind,” he said. “It was definitely not what I wanted to do.”

He made adjustments this spring with hitting coach Edgar Martinez and took a different philosophy in Cactus League games.

“I’m trying to detach myself from those results and focus on the process,” he said. “That’s why I took the entire spring to make some adjustments and not care if went 0 for 3 or 4 and didn’t have good at-bats, because I knew what I was working on and I wanted to get it under control before anything else. I’m going to keep that (mind-set) throughout the whole season and see what happens.”

Even with that, manager Scott Servais had to remind Iannetta to loosen up in a meeting near the end of spring training.

“He was so locked in to trying to get off to a good start this year because he struggled so much last year,” Servais said. “He thought he got buried early in the year and he could never dig himself out of the hole. As hard as you want to try, sometimes it can make it worse. It was, ‘Relax, last year was over.’ ”

The Mariners also preached that to Zunino this spring. He wasn’t going to right all the wrongs from last season — when he hit .174 with 132 strikeouts in 112 games — with one swing. The Mariners wanted him to focus on the process of repairing what was broken — the swing, the confidence, the approach — without worrying about results.

So far the results are impressive. Following Monday’s two-homer game, Zunino is hitting .447 (17 for 38) with three doubles, six homers and 15 RBI with a walk and six strikeouts. He earned PCL player of the week honors Monday.

Zunino is two games from the PCL record of seven consecutive games with a home run, most recently done by Albuquerque’s Dallas McPherson in 2008.

Though the numbers are outstanding, the Mariners are looking beyond them. There is patience in this regime. They want to know that Zunino has fixed the swing issues, increased his contact rate and lowered his strikeout rate. That’s what is needed for success at the big-league level.

He’s talented enough to take advantage of weaker Class AAA pitching without fixing the problems. It’s why the Mariners won’t be in a rush to call him up from Tacoma. They want to see success for an extended period.

But for now, the catching position for the Mariners is projecting to be much better than it was last season.

A good catch

Chris Iannetta’s offensive stats (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) compared to the numbers put up last season by catchers Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre.
Year Player BA OBP SLG
2016 Iannetta .276 .400 .483
2015 Zunino-Sucre .170 .220 .281