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Originally published May 23, 2013 at 7:36 PM | Page modified May 23, 2013 at 11:10 PM

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Jesus Montero's days as Mariners catcher are over

Montero was optioned to Class AAA on Thursday, with the Mariners alarmed over his lack of offensive production.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

Texas @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports

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The days of Jesus Montero catching for the Mariners appear to be done for good.

Montero was optioned to Class AAA on Thursday, with the Mariners alarmed over his lack of offensive production and ready to pull the plug on his catching duties. Jesus Sucre, 25, will be added by the team from AAA as a backup to incumbent catcher Kelly Shoppach later Friday, with a minor-leaguer taken off the 40-man roster to clear a spot.

As for Montero, who will still catch here and there in the minors, the Mariners are no longer counting on him behind the plate going forward.

"I think that, with a lot of young players, it's important to take a step backward in order to take two steps forward," Zduriencik said of the reasons why Montero was sent down.

Montero, 23, will spend time in AAA gathering himself, which hopefully leads to better offensive performance down the road. Team sources say the move has been discussed for quite some time, given Montero's struggles at the plate with a .208 batting average and an on-base-plus slugging mark of only .590.

There is concern within the organization that Montero's offensive struggles are directly linked to the added work as a catcher. The fear is that Montero is now too distracted by his catching responsibilities — and overall struggles on defense — that it has carried over to his hitting and threatens to ruin a player once considered one of the better offensive prospects in the game.

So, the team has decided to allow Montero to spend most of his AAA time as a designated hitter and a part-time first baseman. With minor-league catching prospects Mike Zunino and John Hicks on the rise, the feeling is that there soon won't be a need for Montero behind the plate in any event.

Things came to a head for Montero last Saturday in Cleveland, when he took his foot off home plate while receiving a throw by Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan in the bottom of the ninth. The mistake sealed a Seattle loss.

Montero has also thrown out just one base runner in 24 steal attempts this season, which is the reason Shoppach started Wednesday night's game in Anaheim despite the Angels having a left-handed pitcher on the mound. Some of Montero's best numbers have come off left-handers, but the Mariners were too fearful of starting him behind the plate and having the speedy Angels run wild.

The Mariners are said to be pleased with Montero's work ethic and how he tried to make himself a better catcher. They are less than pleased with some of the mental mistakes he has made, though they attribute much of that to his youth. No timetable has been set for his return.

The Mariners are not expected to make any more moves at the big-league level ahead of Friday's game.

There had been speculation the team might make a move involving its starting rotation after meltdowns this week by Aaron Harang and Brandon Maurer. Zduriencik wouldn't comment on whether any moves are forthcoming the next few days. Harang isn't slotted to pitch again until Monday and Maurer on Tuesday.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @gbakermariners

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