McClendon can relate to Zunino's struggles

McClendon can relate to Zunino's struggles

SEATTLE -- Mike Zunino's season at the plate has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.

The 24-year-old catcher entered Tuesday night's game against the Orioles hitting .170 in 102 games, hitless in 22 at-bats in the month of August. His most recent dry spell comes on the heels of a 10-game hitting streak -- the longest of his career -- during which he hit .361 with six RBIs.

During the hot streak, Zunino credited Mariners hitting coach Edgar Martinez with the uptick in production. Martinez helped Zunino widen his stance and lower his hands to simplify his path to the ball, and in turn Zunino was making better contact. He struck out eight times during the 10-game span, but he hit the ball with authority and brought his batting average over .180 for the first time in two months.

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said there have been slight mechanical changes for Zunino since his successful run at the plate, including head movement that has led to more swings and misses, but his young catcher is mostly trying too hard to turn things around with one swing.

"A lot of times, when you struggle as much as he's struggled, from a physical standpoint you try to do too much, and you gotta get to the point where you just relax and understand you're not going to get four hits in one at-bat," McClendon said. "Just slow things down and take it one at-bat at a time. It's tough; it's not that easy."

The challenge for many young hitters like Zunino is trying not to let the lows get too low or the highs too high, McClendon said. When an approach doesn't work for a couple of games, there's confidence needed to trust one's mechanics enough to stay the course and not let struggles snowball.

It's a mentality McClendon said he didn't learn until he was five years into an eight-year Major League career.

"Five years in the big leagues, I just survived just on talent alone. Then all of a sudden, the light came on," McClendon said. "I started working with [then-Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach] Milt May. I said, 'Wow. How come I couldn't learn any of this five years ago?'"

McClendon's message to Zunino is to stay the course and understand that every night there will be another set of tough Major League pitchers hoping those struggles continue.

"That's part of hitting. It's hard to be consistent," McClendon said. "It's awfully hard for young players to get that. He'll figure it out. It's been a tough year for him."

Andrew Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.