Spring training batting statistics are often inflated by warm, dry weather, over-matched minor league pitchers and major league starting pitchers that care more about getting ready for the regular season than the final result.
Even so, Mariners catcher Mike Zunino has to be encouraged with the strides he’s made at the plate during Cactus League after posting a .199 batting average last season.
In Seattle’s 5-3 win Monday over the Angels at Peoria Stadium, the 24-year-old had a double, a home run — his seventh — three RBIs and a run.
The 2-for-3 afternoon lifted Zunino’s batting average to .354 in 18 games after he spent the off-season working to cut down his strikeouts and improve at hitting to the opposite field. Zunino has plenty of power — he hit 22 home runs in 2014, a club record for a catcher.
Facing Angels RHP Nick Tropeano in Monday’s fourth inning, Zunino fell behind 1-2, forced a full count, fouled off two change-ups, then capitalized with a two-run double. In the seventh, he nicked Tropeano again by leading off with a solo home run to left field, giving the Mariners a 4-1 lead. Zunino’s seven home runs trail only Kris Bryant of the Cubs, who has nine. His 13 RBIs leads the Mariners.
Along with second baseman Robinson Cano (2-for-4 with a homer, two runs and an RBI), Zunino helped Seattle snap a five-game losing streak and improve to 11-15-2 in Cactus League.
Cano’s blast marked his first home run of the spring.
On the mound, RHP Taijaun Walker (3-0, 0.36 ERA) delivered another stellar start in his effort to lock up the No. 5 spot in the rotation. When left fielder Matt Joyce hit a home run off Walker in the second inning, it ended his scoreless streak at 19 innings. That was his only hiccup.
The 22-year-old allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings. He fanned five, walked none and threw 60 of 84 pitches for strikes. He retired the final 18 batters he faced.
“I still think the one run he gave up wasn’t a bad pitch. He threw a good fastball down in the zone and Joyce did a good job of driving it,” Zunino told The Seattle Times. “I thought altogether today he had everything working and he was able to keep people off balance.”
In six spring starts, Walker yielded one run and nine hits over 25 innings, while striking out 24, walking four and posting a team-best 0.52 WHIP.
RHP Felix Hernandez (0-2, 5.91 ERA) gets the start Tuesday at Goodyear Ballpark against the Cleveland Indians in what will be his final appearance before the regular season. LHP Bruce Chen (1-1, 5.00 ERA) gets the start for Cleveland.
- The Mariners’ opening day roster appears set after the club shaved its spring training roster to 28 Sunday.
Zunino is key to any hopes for a playoff berth, let alone going deep into October. He’s already shown he can call a game and hit for power, but he’s going to have to hit above the Mendoza Line this year and that requires more patience, waiting for his pitch and being willing to lay off the bad ones. It sounds obvious but thus far in his career, he’s struck out 207 times with just 33 walks in 611 ABs so the concept hasn’t exactly sunk in. I think he’ll eventually get it and be a real asset, but we need to see in April what we’ve seen in March.