By John Boyle Herald Writer
Mike Zunino, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, signed with the Mariners on Monday, the team announced just prior to its game against Baltimore. With Zunino under contract, the Mariners have now signed 32 of their 41 2012 draft picks, including their top eight selections. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Zunino will receive a $4 million signing bonus.
Zunino, who recently finished his junior year at the University of Florida, flew to Seattle this weekend to take a physical. He will be introduced in a press conference at 1 p.m. today.
Zunino helped lead the Gators to the College World Series and earned the Dick Howser Award, which goes to the nation’s top college baseball player. He also won the Johnny Bench Award, which goes to the top catcher, and is one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the top amateur player in baseball. He will fly to New York later this week for the presentation of the award, which will be handed out Friday — Stanford pitcher Mark Appel and North Carolina State pitcher Carlos Rodon are the other two finalists — then the 21-year old will likely begin his minor-league career early next week.
Montero and Smoak sit
Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak are young players whom the Mariners expect to be big parts of their future. They are also two players who have struggled of late, so on Monday, Montero and Smoak were two players taking a day off.
“I wanted to give Smoak a good work day and give Montero a good work day too,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to switch it up a little bit and throw out a different look and see how that plays out too.”
After finishing May with eight doubles, three home runs and a .436 slugging percentage, Montero saw his numbers fall off considerably in June, finishing with three doubles, one home run and a .311 slugging percentage. Even more startling, Montero drove in just one run in June after having 14 RBI a month earlier. Smoak went from hitting .255 with a .451 slugging percentage in May to hitting .147 with a slugging percentage of just .211 in June.
“We’re trying to find it here at home, trying to get some guys going who are going through some things that have been difficult for them and for us,” Wedge said. “You want to stay as consistent as you can, but every now and again you want to mix it up too.
“With Montero, he’s just young and going through a lot of young things, he’s having some youthful at-bats. A lot of ability, he’s just working through some failures that he probably hasn’t had before. The difference up here is that these guys are facing good pitching each and every night — there’s no let-up, there are no days off.
“With Smoak, it’s a combination of things. He’s working to figure some things out too, some of which are mechanical, some of which is just about his approach and whatnot. (They are) two players who have a lot of potential who are in different spots in regard to where they are throughout this process of going through things.”
Saunders’ health improving
Michael Saunders was out of the lineup for a fourth straight game with flu-like symptoms, but the outfielder was able to take batting practice Monday and is improving to the point that, as he jokingly said, he “feels like a human again.” Wedge said he hopes to get Saunders back into the lineup today. With Saunders ailing and Franklin Gutierrez on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion, Casper Wells started his fourth straight game in centerfield after not starting a game there the entire season before Friday.
“He’s able to keep food down know and he’s getting his strength back, been able to sleep a little bit more,” Wedge said of Saunders. “So I’m hoping that we can get him in there (Tuesday).”
Kevin Millwood, who missed a start Monday because of a groin injury, threw before the game and Wedge is hopeful the pitcher is still on track to return to the rotation this weekend. “By all accounts he should be fine,” Wedge said… With Ichiro Suzuki in right field, Munenori Kawasaki at second base and Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound, the Mariners became the first team in Major League history to start three Japanese players in a game.
Baltimore Orioles at Mariners, 7:10 p.m.
Pitchers: right-hander Felix Hernandez (6-5, 3.09 ERA) vs. left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (7-4, 3.73)
Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle