SEATTLE -- When the Mariners called up Mike Zunino barely a year after taking the catcher with the second-overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, they raised a few eyebrows. But he has proven to be ready for the rigors of being an everyday starter in the Major Leagues, rapidly improving both offensively and defensively.
During Seattle's current homestand the youngster is 6-of-16 at the plate, and has earned praise for his ability to handle Seattle's pitching staff and for his defenss. On Friday, he threw out the speedy Mike Trout as he attempted to steal second base. It was the fourth time Trout has been caught in 25 attempts this season.
"I knew my main goal was to catch the pitching staff, and right now I feel like I'm at the point where I'm comfortable with them and continuing to learn about them," Zunino said. "At the plate, I'm just trying to go have quality at-bats."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Zunino's rise is the way he's been able to handle the wear and tear of catching every day at the Major League level.
"I don't think [our former catchers] were conditioned like Michael is," manager Eric Wedge said. "That's the thing. They weren't conditioned to play every day and he is."
Pitchers benefit from Mariners' hot bats
SEATTLE -- The Mariners' bats are coming alive, and nobody is enjoying the offensive resurgence more than their pitching staff. Over the first five games of its current homestand, Seattle has scored 38 runs and hit nine homers.
That surfeit of run support is welcome news for a rotation and bullpen that are used to working with one of the league's lowest average run support. Even with the recent outburst, the Mariners entered Saturday fourth from last in the American League in runs scored.
"You pitch more relaxed," reliever Danny Farquhar said. "Pitching in such tight ballgames all the time is pretty mentally exhausting. And then to have that cushion, giving up a run here or there isn't the end of the world."
Joe Saunders has benefited as much as anyone from the new Seattle offense. After losing 1-0 to the Angels on June 19, Saunders benefited from six runs in the first four innings of Friday night's 8-3 win over the Angels.
"You never know, on a day-in day-out basis, what's going to happen," Saunders said. "Anything can be different on any day, and it doesn't matter who's on the mound or who's hitting, things can change in a heartbeat. We're doing it right now, we're feeling good at the plate and we've just got to keep it going."
Pryor closing in on return to bullpen
SEATTLE -- The Mariners' bullpen could get a boost shortly after the All-Star break, as reliever Stephen Pryor took another step closer to rejoining the club. Pryor threw a simulated game before Saturday's game against the Angels without experiencing any setbacks, meaning he could be ready for a rehab assignment soon.
"Pryor threw again today, looked good," manager Eric Wedge said. "He had [Dustin] Ackley and [Franklin] Gutierrez hitting against him. It's his second sim game, and he feels good so we'll see how he feels tomorrow but we're hoping to get him out to [Class A] Everett over the All-Star break."
Pryor has only pitched 7 1/3 innings for Seattle this year, giving up one run on three hits. The righty has a big arm and can touch 99 mph with his fastball. The 23-year old Pryor had a 10.6 K/9 ratio last season.
Gutierrez may be close to trying another comeback with the Mariners. The oft-injured center fielder was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 24, just two days after being activated. In only 18 games this season, Gutierrez has driven in 11 runs while knocking five home runs, in addition to playing his usual stellar defense.
Wedge said that he would speak with Gutierrez on Sunday and "make some decisions on him." If he is able to play, he will be sent to the Minors for a rehab assignment.
Less encouraging for the Mariners, however, is the status of outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse. The slugger was placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to June 21, after battling a strained right quad for much of June. Wedge said that Morse is still unable to hit without pain.
"He just still feels it. I mean, he's getting better, but when he did the last sim game, he felt it," Wedge said.
Morse was hitting .251 with 11 home runs before being place on the DL.
• The Mariners are third in the American League with 103 home runs, led by Raul Ibanez's 24. The entered Saturday with a club-record 20 straight games with at least one homer.
• Seattle is 15-16 in games against an opposing left-handed starter, entering Saturday, as opposed to 26-66 against righties.
• With his first home run last night, Raul Ibanez became the fifth player to record 200 doubles and 150 homers with the Mariners. The others to do so were Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Alvin Davis.
Jacob Thorpe is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.