Seattle Mariners

Struggling Mariners catcher Mike Zunino optioned to Tacoma

Catcher Mike Zunino strikes out against the Texas on Aug. 7 at Safeco Field. Zunino hit .174 for the Mariners this season before getting demoted to the minors Friday. He struck out 132 times and walked 21 times this season.
Catcher Mike Zunino strikes out against the Texas on Aug. 7 at Safeco Field. Zunino hit .174 for the Mariners this season before getting demoted to the minors Friday. He struck out 132 times and walked 21 times this season. The Associated Press

It was a bad day Friday for the Seattle Mariners’ Z-men.

The Mariners optioned struggling catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A Tacoma shortly after announcing they had fired general manager Jack Zduriencik.

Zunino, 24, departs after a 7 for 54 slump in August dropped his average to .174 average through 112 games. The tipping point, apparently, was club officials detected an accompanying defensive decline.

“We’d hoped that he would come around,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It just got to the point where the offensive pressure was overbearing and starting to get to him from a defensive standpoint.”

The Mariners replaced Zunino by recalling John Hicks, who was batting .245 in 83 games at Tacoma. Hicks is a five-year pro who has never played in the majors.

“We’ll work Hicks in,” McClendon said, “take a look at him and see what he can do. Obviously, we’ve got to bring him up to speed on what we’re doing and how we’re doing things.”

The move, for now, puts former backup Jesus Sucre in line for a majority of the playing time, although Zunino is expected to return after Tacoma’s season concludes Sept. 7.

“I think (Zunino) will catch every day down there,” McClendon said. “It gives him a chance to go down for 10-12 days and take a breather, maybe regroup a little bit and get it going.”

Zunino was the third overall pick in the 2012 draft and reached the majors less than a year later amid concerns that his bat wasn’t yet major league ready.

While he showed power by hitting 33 homers during the past two years, Zunino returns to the minors with a .193 average over 295 career games.

HICKS GETS THE CALL

Hicks got the word on his promotion Thursday night after being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning of Tacoma’s 12-5 victory over Nashville at Cheney Stadium.

“I was talking to Pat (Listach, the Rainiers’ manager) about the previous hitter,” Hicks recalled. “He said, ‘By the way, you’re out of the game.’ I said, ‘OK,” and went and sat down for a second.

“I came back and said, ‘Do you want me to go to the pen to warm up the pitchers?’ He said, ‘No, we’re just waiting on confirmation that you’re going to the big leagues.’

“I was up pretty late (Thursday) night. I had a little trouble sleeping. I got to call my parents, call my brothers and all of my family members. The flight this morning (from Sea-Tac) was probably the best flight I’ve had.”

The Mariners selected Hicks in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He turns 26 on Monday.

LOOKING BACK

It was 25 years ago — Aug. 29, 1990 — that the Mariners signed a 40-year-old outfielder then in his 18th season who had just been released by the Cincinnati Reds.

Ken Griffey Sr.

The move enabled Griffey to play with his celebrated son, Ken Griffey Jr., who was 20 at the time. The senior Griffey enjoyed a career renaissance by batting .377 in 21 games over the closing weeks of the 1990 season.

Ken Griffey Sr. returned the following year but retired in June.

SHORT HOPS

Left-hander Edgar Olmos will replace Mike Montgomery in the rotation for Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox. Montgomery has an 8.33 ERA in his past nine starts. Olmos has not allowed a run in 7 2/3 innings over four relief appearances since his Aug. 16 recall from Triple-A Tacoma... … Right fielder Nelson Cruz’s career-best streak of reaching base safely ended at 37 games when he went 0 fo -5. … Here’s a step in the right direction. The Mariners’ bullpen has not allowed a run in 12 2/3innings over the past four games. ... Austin Jackson went 2 for 4 and has hits in 14 of his past 16 games. He has 10 multi-hit games in that span.

ON TAP

The Mariners and White Sox continue their four-game series at 4:10 p.m. (PDT) Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field, weather permitting. The forecast calls for 60 percent chance of rain.

Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (5-3, 4.29 ERA) is scheduled to face Chicago right-hander Jeff Samardzija (8-10, 4.75). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 770-AM.

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