Mariners won't rush hot-hitting Zunino back

Mariners won't rush hot-hitting Zunino back

CLEVELAND -- Mariners manager Scott Servais says he's thrilled to see catcher Mike Zunino's hot start at Triple-A Tacoma, but the skipper will rely on the club's personnel people and scouts to let him know how long the 25-year-old needs in the Minor Leagues before he's ready to rejoin the big league club.

Zunino homered in five straight games going into Tacoma's Tuesday game in El Paso, and he has batted .447 in his first nine games after the Mariners decided they wanted the 2012 first-round Draft pick to re-establish his offensive approach at the Minor League level after struggling at the plate his first 2 1/2 seasons in Seattle.

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"Good for him, really," said Servais. "That's what he needs. He needs to get some confidence back and feel good about himself. I've talked to a few people who have seen him as recently as the last couple days. The big thing both of those people said is he's having fun. And I think that says a lot. As much as he's struggled here the last couple of years, it has to be fun and enjoyable going to the park, hanging out with your teammates and nice to get some results."

Zunino's sac fly

General manager Jerry Dipoto signed catcher Chris Iannetta and traded for Steve Clevenger to provide a pair of veteran backstops and allow Zunino the time to work on his game and not be rushed back after he put up a .193/.252/.353 line with 38 homers in 295 games over the past three years.

Zunino, the third overall Draft selection in 2012 out of Florida, remains a central figure in the Mariners' long-range plans. Servais, who was the farm director at Texas and Anaheim before becoming Seattle's manager, understands the developmental process as well as anyone, and he acknowledges it's not always easy judging a player from their Minor League results.

"I'd love for all of our guys to rake in Triple-A," Servais said. "I really want us to have multiple options if we have an injury or somebody is struggling here. But you have to take it into context where it's at and trust the people that are seeing him every day."

In the Mariners' new regime, that means player development director Andy McKay and Minor League field coordinator Mike Micucci, who report to Dipoto for the final call on such decisions.

"Those are the guys that will let us know where he's at and when he's getting close," Servais said. "It needs to be a process for him. And if he does take an 0-for-10, how does he respond to that?"

Zunino homered four times in three games in Albuquerque, which is a high-altitude, hitter-friendly park. The Mariners look at much more than long ball totals in judging Minor League results.

"We've talked about it a lot in their ability to control the strike zone," Servais said. "Strikeouts to walks. How consistent are they hitting the ball hard? Power numbers are great, but they can get inflated in the [Pacific Coast League]. We all know that. It's the quality of at-bats. Talking to the manager, talking to the hitting coach, having a number of rovers going in to see him."

For now, Servais says it's pretty simple. Zunino is hitting well, which is a good thing. How that carries over eventually to the Major League level is never as easy, however.

"There's only one way to know, and that's when you get to the big leagues if it's going to work," he said. "The pitching is a little bit different. The defense is a little bit different. I think for where Mike is at, we needed him to get off to a good start, which he did. Having some success and confidence building, it's really, really good for him, and for us."

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