Zunino's work at the plate paying dividends this spring

Mariners catcher has focused on improving his offensive approach

Zunino's work at the plate paying dividends this spring

MESA, Ariz. -- Mike Zunino proved himself as a quality defensive catcher last year who was capable of providing some right-handed power at the plate, but the 23-year-old's continued development of his offensive game this spring is a postive sign for Seattle.

Zunino went 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs scored in the Mariners' 12-10 loss to the Cubs on Saturday, putting his Cactus League average at .346 (9-for-26) in 10 games.

Zunino hit a pair of home runs in Friday's 4-4 tie with the Rangers in Surprise, giving him three long balls for the spring. But power has never been Zunino's problem as he hit 22 bombs last year, with just a .199 average.

Zunino's second homer

Thus the push this spring to keep him going more up the middle and to right-center, which he believes keeps his bat in the zone longer and gives him better balance. So while he pulled both home runs Friday and also ripped Saturday's double just inside the third-base line, he said his new approach plays into that as well.

"That's the goal and then the pitch is going to dictate where you hit it," he said. "If my path and direction can stay to the pitcher and focus up the middle and I just trust my hands to hit where the ball is pitched, I think that's going to be the key."

"The one thing we've tried to stress with him is when you stretch the field from foul line to foul line, you become a better and more dangerous hitter," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "And he's working on it. It's a work in progress, but he's getting better."

McClendon feels a full year's experience now will be huge for a 23-year-old who was rushed to the Majors in mid-2013 with only 96 games of Minor League time. And indeed, Zunino said he's growing more comfortable in many situations, including his two-strike approach after whiffing 158 times last year in 438 at-bats.

"I feel like I'm night-and-day better there," Zunino said. "I know what I want to accomplish with two strikes. I feel like I have the base and can trust myself now instead of feeling like I'm going up there just hoping I get a pitch to hit. I know what I want to do with two strikes.

"I've had two strikes a little more than I want this spring. I feel like it's all the time," he said with a grin. "But I guess this is the time to work on it."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.