An injury-ravaged pitching staff that seems to change daily though an ongoing blitz of personnel moves is covering up a growing sore spot for the Mariners on the other side of the plate.
How much longer can they ride with a catching tandem of Carlos Ruiz and Tuffy Gosewisch while Mike Zunino seeks to unlock his swing on his latest remedial tour at Triple-A Tacoma?
Ruiz and Gosewisch are producing less — far less, actually — at the plate than Zunino did in his extended struggles. The major defensive metrics also say they represent a decline from Zunino’s performance.
"I expect (Zunino) to be back in a short amount of time," manager Scott Servais said. "But how long can we go? We’ll go as long as we have to. But I’m realistic, and the guys are, too.
"They know they’re going to have to contribute a little more offensively."
Check the numbers.
Zunino was batting .167 with a .250 on-base percentage and a .236 slugging percentage through 24 games when sent May 5 to the Rainiers in hopes of getting his swing straightened out.
Club officials made the move, at least in part, because they also saw the slump as affecting his defense.
Zunino rated at minus-2 in runs saved above average and a minus-0.1 defensive WAR rating after being at plus-8 and plus-0.8 last season in 52 defensive games.
Those numbers, in tandem with his offensive struggles, warranted a demotion — but look at what the Mariners are getting now:
Ruiz (.125) and Gosewisch (.048) entered Thursday batting a combined .098 with a .183 OBP and a .131 slugging percentage. Ruiz also rated at minus-4 in runs saved and a minus-1 in defensive WAR. Gosewisch was minus-1 in both metrics.
"I think Tuffy has done a really good job calling the game," Servais said. "That’s the thing that the average fan doesn’t see. He reads the bat very well.
"Some guys need to throw more fastballs. Some need to throw three or four in a row. He’s got a good feel for that.
"But, obviously, you’ve got to make contact. You’ve got to do some things on the offensive side to stay in the major leagues."
Gosewisch has an option remaining, but Ruiz has sufficient service time to refuse any assignment to the minors and still receive his major-league salary
The Mariners summoned Gosewisch roughly two weeks ago to, effectively, send Zunino on remedial training. Zunino’s numbers to date at Tacoma, while better, hardly merit a recall based solely on performance.
He entered Thursday’s doubleheader at Omaha (Royals) with a .217 average (5-for-23) in seven games, but there are some encouraging signs:
Zunino had two homers after not hitting a single big-league homer this season in 80 at-bats. He also has just two strikeouts in those 23 minor-league at-bats after whiffing a whopping 30 times in his 80 big-league at-bats.
"We’re closely monitoring what’s going on with Mike Zunino," Servais said. "Very closely. You get video clips, and I can see that he’s made a noticeable difference in his setup at the plate and how he’s going about it.
"He has not gotten the results. Hopefully, he gets a few balls to fall in. Mike’s done a much better job this year of controlling the strike zone. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was the balls in the strike zone. He needs to get them in play.
"That has been better (at Tacoma)."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners