The plan for struggling catcher Mike Zunino is a quick refresher course at Triple-A Tacoma before he returns as the Mariners’ starting catcher.
“Hopefully, he’s not down there long,” manager Scott Servais said. “We certainly need him, and we still believe in him. But where he’s at in his career right now, it’s got to be more consistent. He’s got to put the ball in play.”
The Mariners optioned Zunino to Tacoma prior to Friday’s series opener against Texas at Safeco Field. They also recalled Tuffy Gosewisch from the Rainiers to replace Zunino in tandem with veteran backup Carlos Ruiz.
“We’ll go with those guys,” Servais said. “They certainly don’t have the upside that Mike brings, but they’re good ballplayers. They can catch and throw. They put the bat on the ball. We’ll go with that for a while.”
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Zunino, at 26, remains an enigma whose bat, while showing occasional flashes, has never turned into a reliable contributor. He returned to Tacoma after batting just .167 in 24 games with no homer, just two RBIs and 30 strikeouts in 72 at-bats.
“His approach is good,” Servais insisted, “but he’s got some issues mechanically with his swings. He’s getting a lot of balls to hit in the strike zone, and he’s missing them. He’s swinging right through them.
“When that’s happening at the big-league level, it’s really hard to make major changes here. We thought, ‘Let’s take the foot off the gas a little bit. Let’s get him down to Tacoma. Get him right.’
“As soon as we get him going right, he’ll be back. He’s not down there for an extended period of time, but we do need him right.”
The Mariners acquired Gosewisch, 33, in a January waiver claim from Atlanta, but it’s hard to envision a tandem of him and Ruiz as a as a long-term solution.
Gosewisch, 33, has a .198/.236/.285 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 127 big-league games over parts of the last four seasons. That’s worse than Zunino’s career marks of .193/.262/.362.
Ruiz was a steady performer for years in Philadelphia, but he’s now 38, and club officials believe he now only capable of playing two-to-three days a week.
“If you run him out there three or four days in a row,” Servais said, “it’s probably not the best thing for him. Right now, it’s been once a series.”
Ruiz is batting .125 in 12 games but has a .300 on-base percentage.
A name to watch as the Mariners keep losing relievers: Triple-A Tacoma lefty Dean Kiekhefer is 3-for-3 in save opportunities with a 1.35 ERA over 10 appearances. He has limited opponents to a .174 average (4-for-23).
The Mariners acquired Kiekhefer, 27, in a Nov. 4 waiver claim from St. Louis but moved him off their 40-man roster in December and assigned him to the Rainiers when he cleared waivers.
Kiekhefer had a 5.26 ERA in 26 games last season for St. Louis.
It was 38 years ago Sunday — May 7, 1979 — that Dan Meyer drove in what was then a franchise-record seven runs in a 12-4 victory over the Yankees in New York.
Meyer went 3-for-4 with a grand slam and a sacrifice fly.
The record stood until Alvin Davis had eight RBIs on May 9, 1986 at Toronto. Mike Blowers (1995) and Mike Cameron (2001) have also had eight-RBI games.
The Mariners and Rangers conclude their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field when lefty Dillon Overton (0-0 with a 6.14ERA) appears likely to oppose Texas right-hander Andrew Cashner (0-3, 2.95).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
The Mariners will depart for Philadelphia after Sunday’s game and open a two-game series Tuesday against the Phillies. Then comes a four-game series in Toronto before they return home.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners