Mike Zunino Smashed The Mariners To Glory

Not “Smashed” in the Jersey Shore sense, although in a way …

Also, what’s a Jersey Shore?

Mike Zunino has been on an incredible tear!  This is like nothing he’s ever put up before!  I’m not exaggerating; he’s never had a month as good as this June.  The closest is probably his April in 2014 when he had a slash line of:

  • .279/.306/.471/.776, with 3 homers, 4 doubles, 10 RBI, and 7 runs scored

Now, compare that to just the first 19 days in June of this year:

  • .385/.431/.885/1.316, with 8 homers, 2 doubles, 26 RBI, and 11 runs scored

The walks to strikeouts ratio hasn’t changed a whole lot, but he passes the eyeball test.  He’s putting himself in better counts, working his way back from 0-2 holes, and forcing pitchers to throw to him in the strike zone.  Even better, he’s actually HITTING those pitches instead of swinging through them like he was earlier this year (and for most of his career)!

Now, obviously, he could turn back into a pumpkin as early as tonight and go on another prolonged cold streak.  His actual June numbers by month’s end might not look so hot from a slash-line perspective (which, you would think will happen regardless, what with regression and all that), but the point is he’s never been nearly as good for nearly as long as he has through the first three weeks of this month.  No one is expecting Mike Zunino to compete for triple crowns (although, can you imagine?), but it’s comforting to know he’s got this in him.

I’ve said all along:  just give me a Mike Zunino who hits around .250.  With his power, with his pitch-framing ability and overall defensive ability, with the way he’s great with the pitching staff, with his leadership, that’s a guy I wouldn’t mind having at catcher for a good, long career.  Anything above and beyond that, hittingwise, is gravy.  And, in this month of June, we’ve been blessed with a whole shit-ton of gravy!

Last night, with the game tied in the bottom of the sixth, Mike Zunino cranked a 2-run home run to left field – over the bullpens – to put the Mariners ahead.  Then, in the bottom of the eighth, with the M’s still clinging to that 2-run lead, Mike Zunino ding-donged one to center to give the good guys a comfortable 4-run advantage (and thereby swipe a save opportunity from Edwin Diaz, who was already warming up in the ‘pen).  Not for nothing, but it was Z’s second multi-homer game of the month, but that probably doesn’t surprise you.

It might surprise you to see yet another fine pitching performance by this beleaguered bunch.  Sam Gaviglio gave the Mariners 5 solid innings of 2-run ball.  He got into a couple jams by giving up 3 hits and walking 4, but was able to greatly limit the damage thanks to some timely double plays.

Which brings us to the big question:  who will the Mariners keep in the rotation, Gaviglio or Bergman?

For what it’s worth, the organization might not have to make that decision just yet, as Iwakuma got a rehab start last night and could only make it through 2 innings.  He might need another outing or two (like Felix did) before bringing him back.  But, the question is looming regardless.

It could be further complicated if the Mariners decide to throw rationality to the wind and keep Yovani Gallardo on this roster.  I mean, look, he’s been ridiculously terrible this year.  If you go by the generous “Quality Start” definition in Major League Baseball (going at least 6 innings, giving up no more than 3 earned runs), he only has 4 in 14 total appearances.  He’s given up fewer than 3 runs only twice; for a so-called innings eater, he’s only gone 7 innings one time; and worst of all is he’s earning $11 million this year (with a $2 million buy-out next year).  It’s absolutely fucking shameful.

The primary argument for choosing Gallardo over the other two is that he’s got experience (Bergman had 14 starts over 3 seasons before this year; Gaviglio is a rookie).  He’s also a veteran, while I believe the other guys should have options (Bergman has less than 2 years of service time, so we should be good there).  Talentwise, Gallardo has a decent fastball, but he’s just been getting pounded.  There’s a slight argument in his favor that he usually only has 1 bad inning per start, and once he gets around that, he’s putting up zeroes.  But, that 1 bad inning is usually very early in the game, and it’s usually REALLY bad, putting the team in too big a hole to climb out of.  You’d think, if he could take better command of that 1 bad inning and at least limit the damage, he’d be an effective starter for this team.  But, you’d also think if he had that ability in him, he would have done it by now.

The fact of the matter is, Gallardo sucks at getting out of jams.  He’s been nothing but a liability for this team, and I don’t think we would’ve been any worse off if we’d given all of his starts to Chase De Jong all season.  Just because he’s been healthy all year and has made all of his starts is no feather in his cap.  If anything, he’s the ONE guy I WISH would’ve gotten injured, as opposed to the four guys who did.

If this is any sort of just and fair world, Gallardo gets hacked off this roster as soon as Felix returns on Friday.  Because, based on performance, Gallardo is severely lagging behind Bergman and Gaviglio.

Which gets us back to the aforementioned big question:  Bergman or Gaviglio?

Bergman has 3/9 quality starts; Gaviglio has 2/7 (with an asterisk, as one of those “quality starts” saw him give up 4 unearned runs in a loss).  By my own vague definition of starts where they kept the Mariners in the ballgame, I’ve got Bergman at 6/9 and Gaviglio at 4/7.  Bergman has a couple 7+ shutout inning performances under his belt and looks like a guy who will give you more quality innings; but he’s also got those two truly atrocious starts where he gave up 10 and 9 runs respectively.  Conversely, Gaviglio has gone between 5-6 innings in every start, giving up 0-5 runs.

Which leads to my thumbnail definition of each guy.  Bergman is more likely to eat more innings and look better doing it; but he’ll also have starts where he completely falls apart and looks like the most hittable guy on the planet.  Gaviglio is more likely to give you 5 innings and limit damage to 2-3 runs.

If I’m being honest, I think Bergman is the better, more talented pitcher right now, but I just flat out feel better when I see Gaviglio is on the mound.  There’s no way to explain it, because if these two guys pitched for the A’s or something, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.  Frankly, I don’t know how BOTH of those guys aren’t getting destroyed every time they hit the mound.  Looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors, if you ask me.  I could be way off base, though, but I just feel like Gaviglio has a higher upside.  Maybe I’m just easily impressed by the “bulldog mentality”.  Of course, the last guy we had around here with a bulldog mentality was Erik Bedard, and he too was prone to the Five & Dive start.

I really don’t have a clue as to what the Mariners are going to decide.  I’m pretty confident they’ll let Gallardo go at some point.  Considering Bergman was called up before Gaviglio – meaning he was “ahead” of Gaviglio on the theoretical depth chart – if I had to guess I’d say they roll with Bergman for a while and let Gaviglio keep starting in Tacoma.  Of course, I doubt we will have seen the last of either of the guys who end up being sent down to Tacoma.  What, the Mariners are suddenly going to get and STAY healthy?  Poppycock!

As for the rest of last night’s game, kudos to Guillermo Heredia – getting the start for Haniger, who was given a rest day – who hit the game-tying 2-run home run in the fifth.

Big ups to James Pazos, who got the win with his 1.1 innings of shutout relief.

Bigger ups to Nick Vincent, who went 1.1 innings of shutout ball for the second day in a row.  As I was talking about on Twitter last night, that’s 13 consecutive appearances where he hasn’t given up a run.  He’s 8 for 8 in Hold opportunities in that span, going 11.1 innings, giving up 10 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 7.  He’s been an absolute beast all year and the only guy in the ‘pen (besides Pazos maybe?) who hasn’t really had any sort of prolonged slump.  He’s locked down that 8th inning role and is able to be used multiple innings on multiple days in a row, which is really important for a team that’s largely struggled with its bullpen for the season.

Also, a shout out to Jarrod Dyson, who is having his own fine month of June.  Ever since Mitch Haniger came back, and it looked like Dyson’s grasp of a starting job might be in jeopardy, he’s come out swinging like a big dog to fend off Heredia for now.  It’s a crowded outfield, with four guys playing really well, and I can’t remember the last time I was able to say that with a straight face.

This Tigers series continues with Ariel Miranda tonight.

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