Zunino was batting .167 and hadn't hit a homer in 24 games. The Mariners will split time between veterans Carlos Ruiz and Tuffy Gosewisch, who was recalled from Tacoma.
Just a week ago, Mariners manager Scott Servais tried to find optimism in the struggling start of catcher Mike Zunino. He talked of swing changes and a little bit of luck to provide Zunino a kickstart to a frustrating first month of the season. But even hope can be buried by too many lost at-bats.
“I do think there comes a point, and Mike knows this as well, where you need production,” Servais said last week. “We haven’t had much production out of the catching spot offensively. Mike continues to do a great job behind the plate, working with Mel (Stottlemyre) and our pitchers to get them through stuff. But at some point, you have to see some results.”
That point came on Friday.
The Mariners optioned Zunino to Class AAA Tacoma just after batting practice and recalled veteran catcher Tuffy Gosewisch to replace him on the roster. Carlos Ruiz got the start on Friday night. But at age 38, he can’t be an every day catcher. The Mariners will likely split time between to the two veterans. But having to send Zunino down because of offensive struggles was something the front office and coaching staff was hoping to avoid. But it became clear that it was becoming counterproductive for him to remain and try to fight through his issues at the plate.
“With where he’s at in his career, we thought, let’s take the foot off the gas here a little bit,” Servais said after the Mariners 3-1 loss to the Rangers in 13 innings. “Let’s get him down to Tacoma and get him right. And as soon as we get him right, he will be back. He’s not going to be down there for an extended period of time or whatever, but we do need him right. In talking with coaches and the front office, now was the time to make that move. Hopefully he’s not down there long because we certainly need him. We still believe in him, but where he’s at in his career right now, it’s got to be more consistent. He’s got to put the ball in play.”
Zunino, 26, was hitting .167 (12-f0r-72) with a. 236 on-base percentage, five doubles and two RBI in 24 games with the Mariners this season. He had six walks and 30 strikeouts. It’s the third straight season he’s been sent to Tacoma. Zunino started last season the Rainiers in an effort to reset his approach and swing in a pressure-free environment. He was called up on June 30 and hit .207 (34-for-146) a .318 on-base percentage, seven doubles, 12 homers and 31 RBI in 55 games. A former No. 3 pick in 2012 draft by Settle, Zunino’s development was sidetracked with a premature call-up in 2013 and struggles that followed. The new regime under general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais tried to correct his development with that reset to start last season.
“Mike is going to be a big part of our team,” Servais said. “We certainly need him. What we saw out of Mike Zunino so far this season was different than the struggles you’ve maybe seen earlier (in his career) in the fact that his approach is good. He’s got some issues mechanically with his swing. He’s getting a lot of balls to hit in the strike zone and he’s missing them and swinging right through. When that’s happening at the big league level, it’s really hard to make major changes here.”
Gosewisch, 33, is batting .240 (12-for-50) with four doubles, seven RBI and eight walks in 17 games with the Rainiers. He’s thrown out 7-of-14 baserunners — the 2nd-highest caught stealing percentage in the Pacific Coast League this season among qualifying catchers. He was a waiver claim in the offseason, he spent parts of four seasons with the Diamondbacks, playing in 126 games, hitting .199 (78-for-392) with 17 doubles, a triple, five homers and 30 RBI.
“We’ll go with the both of those guys,” Servais said of playing time between the veterans. “They certainly don’t have the upside and all the stuff that Mike brings, but they are good ballplayers. They can catch and throw. They put the bat on the ball. So we’ll go with that for a while.”