In their first roster move after firing general manager Jack Zduriencik on Friday morning, the Mariners demoted struggling catcher Mike Zunino to Class AAA Tacoma and called up catcher John Hicks.
CHICAGO — There have been no shortage of ugly at-bats or strikeouts for Mike Zunino this season.
But on Thursday night, Zunino’s final plate appearance in a 4-2 loss finally pushed the Mariners to make a move. With bases loaded, Zunino stepped to the plate with one out against left-hander Zach Duke.
After watching a first pitch in the dirt, Zunino went on to flail at three pitches in roughly the same spot for his 132nd strikeout of the season.
In season filled with failures, manager Lloyd McClendon saw the offensive woes taking a toll on Zunino’s confidence.
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“We hoped that he would come around,” McClendon said. “But I think it got to the point where the offensive pressure was starting to get to him from a defensive standpoint.”
The Mariners decided to give Zunino a mental break, optioning the 24-year-old catcher to Class AAA Tacoma on Friday. They called up catcher John Hicks to take his spot on the roster.
Zunino was hitting just .174 (61-for-350) with 11 doubles, 11 homers and 28 RBI in 112 games. After a strong spring training, he struggled to find success and consistent contact during the regular season.
“This is the chance for him to go down for 10 to 12 days and take a breather and regroup a little,” McClendon said.
Major-league rosters expand Tuesday, but the Rainiers don’t end their season until Sept. 7. Zunino is expected to remain with Tacoma to close out the season and then return to the Mariners.
“Our hope is that he will be back,” McClendon said.
Despite the struggles this season, Zunino had remained confident that his swing and hitting would come around. More important, until recently he didn’t let his failures at the plate affect him behind it.
“I think it just got a point for him where it became overbearing,” McClendon said. “I think when you saw that last at-bat last night. It was just not very good.”
Hicks arrived to U.S. Cellular Field on Friday afternoon just before batting practice. He wasn’t in the starting lineup. The Mariners wanted to give him a game to sit with bench coach Trent Jewett to go over the multitude of defensive signs used by the team. McClendon said Hicks will share playing time with Jesus Sucre in the interim.
“We’ll work him in and take a look at him and see what he can do,” McClendon said. “Obviously, we have to let him get up to speed on what we do and how we do things.”
In 83 games with Class AAA Tacoma, Hicks hit .245 (73-for-298) with 15 doubles, a triple, six home runs and 35 RBI. He appeared in 67 games at catcher. He has combined to hit .280 (428-for-1,529) during his time in the minor leagues. Hicks was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Virginia. He was the catcher for the Mariners’ top pick that season — Danny Hultzen.
Hicks was informed of his call-up by Rainiers manager Pat Listach on Thursday night in the sixth inning of the Rainiers’ 12-5 win over Memphis at Cheney Stadium.
“I came into the dugout and I was talking to Pat about the previous hitter,” Hicks recalled. “And he said, ‘By the way you are out of the game.’ So I went and sat down for a second and I came back and asked if he wanted me to got the bullpen to warm up pitchers, and he said, ‘No, we are just waiting for confirmation you are going to the bigs.”
That started off a whirlwind 18-hour span that had Hicks calling his family and friends, and preparing for an early-morning flight to Chicago.
“I was up pretty late last night,” he said. “I had some trouble sleeping. The flight this morning was probably the best flighty I’ve had.”