Zunino returns to lineup after breaking hand
Seattle Times staff reporter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Mike Zunino made it back to the Mariners with a month of the season to spare.
And now, the rookie catcher is eager to make up for lost time and return to where he was five weeks ago before being sidelined by a broken hamate bone in his hand. Zunino caught all nine innings Monday in a 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
“It felt really good,’’ he said. “The hand and the legs felt good. It was just one of those things where it’s just really nice to come back and feel 100 percent.’’
Zunino had caught in three games for Class AAA Tacoma before being recalled. Though the bone – on his catching hand — was surgically removed, he says he can’t feel any difference.
“That was the biggest thing,’’ he said. “The first day, I caught five innings and it felt good. And then when I caught the seven- and nine-(inning games) it was just back to normal, which was the biggest thing. It really had no effect on my catching.’’
Zunino went 0 for 3 with a walk in four plate appearances Monday.
The Mariners are expected to add a flurry of additional September callups. Left-handed starting pitcher James Paxton is to join the team Tuesday from Class AAA.
Paxton will likely be available for bullpen duty and then could make a start in place of Taijuan Walker once he’s shut down. Walker is to pitch here Wednesday, then again next week in Seattle before reaching his innings limit.
The Mariners might also have to add another starter from Tacoma with Hisashi Iwakuma nearing the innings total the team wants him at. Iwakuma has already thrown 191 innings this season, second-highest among American League starters entering Monday’s games.
• The Mariners gave Abraham Almonte a start in center field on Monday, meaning he’s now played all three outfield spots since being called up late last week.
“That’s where he’s been playing the majority of time in AAA and in winter ball before that,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “And in other places, in left field and right field. Som here in a short period of time here, we’ve seen him play in left and in center and in right field and so I think that’s a good thing.’’
Wedge said he avoided breaking Almonte into center field in Houston, where Minute Maid Park has a quirky grass berm in the outfield that rises uphill. Instead, he preferred the more traditional outfield alignment here.
• Felix Hernandez struck out six batters on Monday, giving him 205 this season. It marked the fifth consecutive season in which Hernandez has whiffed 200 or more, tying Randy Johnson’s streak from 1991 to 1995.
• This was the first game between the Mariners and Royals this season, making it the latest Seattle has ever opened a season series against an AL opponent – outside of the strike-interrupted 1981 season. The previous latest date to start a season series was Aug. 17, 2004, when the Mariners also opened late against the Royals.