Zunino's confidence soars with sustained success

Zunino's confidence soars with sustained success

SEATTLE -- Oh, what a difference a year has made for Mike Zunino.

The Mariners catcher was sent down to Triple-A last season on Aug. 28, his big league season done after posting a .174/.230/.300 line with 11 homers in 112 games. As Seattle was winding up its year, the 2012 first-round Draft pick was left searching for answers in Tacoma.

But Zunino finds himself on the upswing this August. After being given 3 1/2 months more in the Minors to rediscover his confidence and hitting stroke, he's been on a tear since being brought back to the Mariners in late July. The 25-year-old homered in his third straight game Monday, this one a huge three-run opposite-field shot that lifted Seattle to a 7-5 victory over the Yankees.

And those numbers, so abysmal last season, have turned to .280/.396/.707 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in just 26 games in 2016.

"It's fun. That's the biggest thing," Zunino said. "It's fun to be out there and able to help the team any way you can. Just to be in that situation and have that opportunity and come through, it's just a great confidence booster."

Zunino has taken over the starting duties from veteran Chris Iannetta and run with it since his July 20 promotion. The Mariners are 15-8 in the games he's started, and Monday's victory clearly had his stamp on it after he ripped the go-ahead shot off Anthony Swarzak as Seattle overcame four Yankees home runs.

"That was a 3-2 slider and he'd punched out on some sliders earlier," manager Scott Servais said. "A really nice at-bat, not trying to do too much. He's so strong and talented, if he just gets the good part of the bat on it, good things happen."

"There's definitely more of a learning curve as the at-bat is going on," said Zunino. "I can see a pitch and store it and know which ones I want to hit and where I need to see it. I was able to see one early, then he threw a couple down and away that I was able to lay off, then I got the one up in the zone to drive."

And that growth curve is becoming long enough now that Zunino's confidence isn't about to fade. He's reached base safely in 18 straight games, hitting .302 with six homers and 16 RBIs in that stretch.

Sustaining his success beyond just a fast start is the thing that makes him know this run is real.

"Obviously you're going to get in streaks, and those are good to ride out," he said. "But the consistency and longevity of a stretch like this is nice. It just shows this is the player you want to be and what you can really hope to be."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. 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.