SEATTLE (AP) — All the reports from the minors said Mike Zunino was making the changes the Seattle Mariners wanted to see. His power was still there, but the strikeouts were down and the pitch recognition was improved.
Now back in the majors, Zunino provided a promising glimpse on Saturday night of what the Mariners hope is an improved version of the former first-round pick.
Zunino homered twice in his first game of the season, Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith both hit three-run home runs, and the Mariners slugged past the Baltimore Orioles 12-6 on Saturday night.
Adam Lind had four hits including a solo homer as the Mariners won for the sixth time in eight games and took their third straight from the AL East leading Orioles.
“It’s always exciting to get back. Obviously how last year ended isn’t how you write it up. There’s been a lot of work put into it and just to get the opportunity to come back and do that, that was a lot of fun,” Zunino said. “To come in and have that type of game was even better.”
Cruz staked Seattle to a 3-0 lead with his 21st homer of the season in the first inning off Baltimore starter Tyler Wilson (4-6) and Zunino extended it to 5-0 in the second on a two-run shot in his first at-bat of the season after being called up from Triple-A Tacoma earlier this week.
Zunino, a former first-round pick by the Mariners, was rushed to the majors early in his career and his hitting suffered, bottoming out last year when he hit .174 in 112 games. Seattle spent the offseason retooling Zunino’s approach at the plate, but the goal was to keep him at Triple-A for most of the season.
When backup catcher Steve Clevenger suffered a broken bone in his hand earlier this week, a move needed to be made and Zunino was the obvious choice. He lined a 1-2 curveball from Wilson out in the second inning then drove the first pitch from reliever Mychal Givens in the sixth.
Perhaps most impressive of his three times on base, Zunino walked in the eighth laying off borderline pitches he went after in the past.
“It’s not easy to go back to the minor leagues and work on things and have a good attitude about it,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Happy for him and a big night no doubt. Wasn’t expecting two home runs but we’ll take it.”
Cruz’s homer was estimated at 459 feet and landed above the bullpens in deep left-center and the five home runs helped Seattle move into second in the majors with 122, trailing only Baltimore.
Smith ended Wilson’s night with a three-run shot in the fourth, getting the green light on a 3-0 pitch for his ninth homer of the season. It was Smith’s third straight game with a home run and he finished with four RBIs.
“I don’t swing 3-0 very often but sometimes you want to take a chance and see what happens,” Smith said.
Wilson failed to record an out in the fourth before getting pulled. It was his shortest outing of the season as a starter.
“He’s not as quite as crisp as he was . He’s just not carrying the same crispness he had earlier in the season,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.
The offensive outburst gave leeway for Seattle starter James Paxton when he struggled in the later innings. Paxton (2-3) was dominant for four innings, but couldn’t make it out of the sixth after allowing five base runners in the inning. Tom Wilhelmsen got a pop out from Adam Jones with the bases loaded to escape the sixth.
Chris Davis had three RBIs, including a two-run homer in the seventh off reliever Nathan Karns.
Orioles: Showalter sounded pessimistic that RHP Darren O’Day (hamstring) would be able to throw a bullpen session when the Orioles are in Los Angeles early next week. O’Day’s been on the disabled list since June 3.
Mariners: LHP Charlie Furbush threw a simulated game as he continues his recovery from shoulder problems. Furbush will likely be sent out on a rehab assignment soon.
Orioles: Ubaldo Jimenez (5-7) goes for his third straight victory. Jimenez gave up one run in five innings in his last start against San Diego.
Mariners: Hisashi Iwakuma (7-6) starts the finale of the four-game series. Iwakuma threw 6 2/3 innings in his last start to get the win.
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