The Mariners optioned Mike Marjama to Class AAA Tacoma to make room for Zunino, who will be in the lineup for the first time this season Friday night in Texas.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Zunino played his first game of the 2018 season on Friday night. The Mariners catcher was activated from the 10-day disabled list earlier in the day and was back in the starting lineup, batting seventh, as the Mariners opened a three-game series vs. the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park.
“It’s good to be back,” he said before going 0 for 5. “Obviously, missing any time sucks, but definitely at the beginning of the season doesn’t make it any better. I’m just happy everything went smooth. Hopefully, I can help this team win.”
For a baseball junkie like Zunino, knowing he was going to be playing on Friday night, certainly made getting out of bed a little easier.
“Besides the day before the season starts, this is the most excited I’ve been, knowing that I’m going to be able to come in and help this team,” he said. “You prepare all offseason and all spring for it. For that day to finally be here, even though it’s a few weeks late, it’s nice.”
Zunino strained his left oblique during a workout the day before the season opener at Safeco Field. The Mariners initially felt like he would miss just 10 days because it was only a Grade 1 strain. But they decided to be cautious with Zunino’s return, not wanting him to re-strain the oblique or suffer any sort of setback.
He hit .395 (17 for 43) with two doubles, five home runs, 12 RBI in Cactus League play before the injury. Last season, he hit .251 (97 for 387) with 25 doubles, 25 home runs, 64 RBI, 39 walks, a .331 on-base percentage and a .509 slugging mark in 124 games with Seattle.
“He was in a really good spot,” manager Scott Servais said. “He was really swinging the bat well and primed to get off to a good start. Unfortunately things happen, hopefully it doesn’t derail his season. He gets off to a little later start. But just go out and have good at-bats, the power and hitting the ball hard will take care of itself.”
Beyond the offensive potential, Zunino is outstanding receiver and defender. He has an energy that he brings to the field and has blossomed as a leader.
“The guy behind the plate needs to have that, whether you like it or not,” Servais said. “I used to tell guys: ‘Everyone is looking at you. All eight guys on the field are looking at you and how you carry yourself, your energy and the little things. It can make a big difference.”
To make room for Zunino, the Mariners optioned Mike Marjama back to Class AAA Tacoma and kept David Freitas as the backup. Marjama edged out Freitas in the competition for the backup spot during spring training and was on the opening-day roster.
However, when Zunino went on the disabled list, the Mariners decided to split the playing time between Marjama and Freitas. And over that time, Freitas simply played better, outperforming Marjama at the plate and behind it.
“He won the opportunity to stay here,” Servais said.
Freitas impressed Servais in several aspects.
“David played awesome,” Servais said. “I think his feel for pitchers and getting them through games — I thought he did a really nice job with Marco Gonzales. He caught all of (James) Paxton’s outings, he worked in with Mike Leake last time. He’s been really good with our pitchers. He’s done okay with the bat. I have to give him credit.”
Freitas is hitting .286 (8 for 28) with four doubles and a RBI.
“He made a couple of adjustments in spring training, nothing major,” Servais said. “But one thing David does at the plate, he doesn’t chase a bunch of pitches out of the strike zone. He usually gets something to hit.”
Marjama played in 10 games, hitting .111 (3 for 27) with three doubles. He’ll go back to the Rainiers and be the everyday catcher, getting plenty of playing time and at-bats.
Ryon Healy (right ankle sprain) began his rehab assignment with Class AA Arkansas on Friday.
“It could be two, three, four games, we’ll see how it goes,” Servais said. “He’s moving around okay. He needs to get some at-bats and get some timing down there before bringing him back on this trip.”