SAN DIEGO -- After hitting .274 in the season's first month, Mariners catcher Mike Zunino has batted just .188 (24-for-128) in his past 38 games. But manager Lloyd McClendon says the 23-year-old is just going through the normal growing pains and has been a stalwart behind the plate through it all.
"I see a young man that has a bright future, is learning the league and right now he's been swinging and missing a little bit," McClendon said. "But when he shores things up, he's a fast learner. I see a future All-Star catcher, that's what I see. He's in his first full year and he's going to struggle. It happens. They all struggle at some point. He'll be fine."
Zunino is hitting .219 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 201 at-bats. He got a normal day off Thursday with backup catcher John Buck starting the day game after a night game against the Padres.
Zunino is tied for second among American League starting catchers with just two passed balls and is tied for the fifth-best caught stealing percentage at 28.9. The Mariners have raved about his ability to block pitches in the dirt and he's been excellent in working with Seattle's pitchers, who have the second-best ERA in the league.
San Diego scored the tying run in Wednesday's 2-1 loss on a wild pitch by Felix Hernandez on a sixth-inning changeup that skittered past Zunino, allowing Alexi Amarista to score from third. But Hernandez acknowledged that was a "horrible" pitch on a ball he spiked in the dirt well in front of the plate.
Zunino's goal is to keep every ball in front of him and he thought he'd done so with Hernandez's tough changeup to Chris Denorfia with two out and the 1-0 lead at the time.
"It just got on the right side of my body," said Zunino. "Obviously, as the ball is traveling, you have to make a read and try to use your body to keep it over the plate. Sometimes it's tough with changeups in general. With breaking balls you know they're going to bounce back the opposite way because of the spin, but with changeups you just sort of have to beat it to the spot. I thought I got there, but it was just a little bit off my right side."
"It's a 90-mph changeup," McClendon said. "It's like a fastball. It's tough. He's been great. It's unfortunate, but he's not going to be 100 percent when it comes to blocking that kind of changeup, and last night was just one that hurt. It happens."