Mike Zunino has a personal checklist of daily drills and keys that are designed to help him find consistency with his swing at the big league level.
WASHINGTON D.C. — The meandering path filled with speed bumps and switchbacks to becoming a competent big league hitter has yet to be completed by Mike Zunino.
But the Mariners hope that the continued work, a recent reset with Class AAA Tacoma and “The Zunino Rules” can help their catcher realize his potential and also help an offense in dire need of production from that spot in the lineup.
Wait, what the heck are The Zunino Rules?
“You’ve often heard me talk about how the players need to understand themselves and coach themselves,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Zunino’s demotion to Tacoma. “It was kind of like hitting 101 — let’s start back at the basics and understanding where his deficiencies are and attack them and make sure he understands them. It’s not just us telling him, ” Oh do this, and it will be fine.’ No, it’s making sure he understands it, that’s what the point was.”
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So as part of the process to clean up Zunino’s swing, the staff in Class AAA Tacoma worked diligently to help Zunino understand his swing more. They gave him a checklist of drills and things he needs to do each day to try and put his stance and swing to where it should be, but also the reasoning behind it and why it’s important. Those are the new “Zunino Rules” and it’s something that hitting coach Edgar Martinez and assistant coach Scott Brosius will make sure that he continues to stay with each day.
“There are drills I’m doing, step-by-step stuff that I can isolate each part of swing in the cage before batting practice,” Zunino said. “So I know I’ve hit every checkpoint before I go into the game. And that sort of frees you up in the game, knowing that you’ve done that, got it to your liking and then bring it into the game and worry about competing and hitting. I’m excited to apply it here.”
Servais even quizzed the ever-excitable Zunino on the rules in his office before batting practice on Tuesday.
“I said, ‘Slow down, tell me what this means’ and I had the bullet point and he explained it perfectly,” Servais said. “And I had about seven bullet points to discuss. It was a really good to see him have a good, clear understanding and be very confident of what he’s trying to do now.”
It may seem extreme, but it’s just a different way of helping a player learn and find consistency.
“I’ve done this many times with players,” Servais said.
The “Zunino rules” have led him back to a stance similar to spring training with his feet a little closer together and his hands a little higher.
“It’s just cleaning up a bunch of stuff,” Zunino said. “Sometimes you get in here and you try and make some adjustments and it takes you away from stuff. I’m starting over and getting back to the basics. It cleaned up a lot of path issues. My timing was better. I’m excited to apply it here.”
And why did he change from his spring training stance?
“It got away from that,” he said. “The first couple of series I was hitting the ball well. But when the results didn’t come, I made some adjustments that took me away from that.
The “Zunino rules” will supposedly help prevent that. But will it lead to sustained success?
The Mariners could use it considering they’ve gotten minimal production from the catching spot, Zunino included, this season. Seattle ranks near the bottom of every offensive category for catchers in the American League (below). Zunino’s replacement, Tuff Gosewisch, had two hits in 28 at-bats in 11 games, while Carlos Ruiz is batting .133 with a .459 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Danny Valencia was a late scratch before Tuesday’s game with a sore wrist. Valencia has missed three games after injuring the wrist while sliding into third.
With no designated hitter in the series in D.C., Nelson Cruz got his first start of the season in right field. Hamstring issues have limited Cruz from playing in the field, but he’s fully healthy now. The last time Cruz played outfield was in the World Baseball Classic.
As expected, the team activated Robinson Cano from the disabled list on Tuesday. He was in the lineup batting third and at second base.
“The hard thing is to sit down and watch a game,” he said. “For me, it’s really hard. I love to play this game. I hate to sit and watch somebody else play the game. I was waiting for this day to be able to come back on the field and contribute to this team and win games.”