Zunino still part of Mariners' long-term plans

Catcher is struggling at plate, expected to start season at Triple-A

Zunino still part of Mariners' long-term plans

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Despite the addition of three new catchers to the organization since last season ended, Mariners manager Scott Servais said 2012 first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino remains firmly in the club's long-term plans.

And while the plan is for Zunino to start the year with Triple-A Tacoma, Servais feels Zunino very well could be part of the Mariners at some point in 2016. Seattle signed veteran Chris Iannetta to be the starter, traded for Steve Clevenger to serve as the backup and now has claimed Rob Brantly to compete with Clevenger as the left-handed partner to Iannetta.

Mariners bolster stable of backstops by adding Brantly

Clevenger and Brantly are both out of Minor League options, so whoever doesn't win that job will be eligible to be claimed off waivers. Meanwhile, Zunino will be given the chance to start regularly at Tacoma and try to regain his confidence at the plate after hitting .193 in his first three seasons in the Majors.

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"I don't look at this as an entire developmental year for Mike Zunino," Servais said. "I look at this as giving him a breather, get his confidence back and get him going. I would love to have him be a part of this team at some point this year. I think at the end of the day, very, very seldom do you get through a year with just two catchers."

Zunino had a torrid spring last year, then struggled out of the gate when the regular season began. This year, he's scuffling at the plate early, now 0-for-11 after going hitless in two at-bats in Saturday night's 5-2 win over the Reds in Goodyear.

"The numbers don't lie," Servais said. "He's had some decent at-bats, but some haven't been as good. He's aware where he's at. I would love to see a couple fall in for him and get him to relax a little bit."

Worth noting
• Lefty setup man Charlie Furbush has yet to throw in a game and "isn't bouncing back as quick" as the club would like after his throw days as he returns from last year's shoulder issue, according to Servais. Furbush will get another live batting practice session before being cleared for Cactus League play.

"It's just taking him a little bit longer to get ready to go," Servais said. "I'm still anticipating him being on our club Opening Day. But obviously, he has to pitch in games."

Brad Mills, a veteran left-hander on a non-roster invitation, has yet to pitch this spring due to a sore shoulder and was scheduled to see a doctor for tests on Saturday. He joins right-handers Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook (lat strains) on the shelf for now. Cook went on the 60-day DL on Saturday. Servais said he doesn't have a timetable on Scribner, "but we are more optimistic there."

Nathan Karns gets the start on Sunday in a 1:10 p.m. PT game against the Reds on MLB.TV, then Taijuan Walker and Felix Hernandez will handle split-squad duties on Monday. Walker is slated for four innings against the D-backs at Salt River Fields, while Hernandez is scheduled for three innings in his Cactus League debut in Peoria against the Rockies. Both Monday games are at 1:10 p.m. PT, but only the Rockies game will be televised. Watch it live on MLB.TV.

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