By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — An injury first believed to be minor turned out to be a major pain for the Seattle Mariners, who lost their starting catcher Friday for up to six weeks.
Mike Zunino left Thursday night’s victory over the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning with pain in his left wrist. Zunino and the Mariners thought it stemmed from taking a couple foul balls off the upper wrist area and was nothing serious.
On Friday morning, they found out it was something far worse.
“There was a suspicion last night,” Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. “That’s the reason we ordered the MRI.”
After undergoing magnetic resonance imaging, Zunino was diagnosed with a broken hamate bone in the wrist and placed on the 15-day disabled list. The injury will require surgery next week and, in a worst-case scenario, could keep the promising the rookie on the bench until early September, forcing him to miss up to 37 games.
“It’s something that I’m going to have to deal with and come back through a speedy recovery,” Zunino said. “Yeah, it’s frustrating, but it’s just another thing you deal with as a player.”
Prior to Friday night’s game, the team added 11-year major league veteran catcher Humberto Quintero, who was designated for assignment by Philadelphia two days ago. He cleared waivers and elected free agency today. While with the Phillies, Quintero, 33, appeared in 24 games and had a .250 batting average with four doubles, two home runs and nine RBI.
Zunino suffered his injury while swinging and missing at a pitch in the third inning of Thursday night’s win over Minnesota. He said he felt discomfort after the swing but finished the at-bat. He also felt pain when he fouled off a pitch and then later flew out to center.
“I felt it really on a swing and miss,’ he said. “And then I had a couple more swings after that. I felt it then but just kind of battled through it.”
Zunino went out and caught the fourth inning and the pain persisted.
“The last inning was the tell tale of it all,” he said. “I felt it there and knew something wasn’t right.”
He was replaced by Henry Blanco.
Zunino said he had been hit by a few foul balls on his hand and wrist above the hamate bone earlier in Thursday’s game as well in a game a couple days before. He thought the pain in the lower wrist was a result of it.
“It’s unfortunate for Mike and for us,” acting Mariners manager Robby Thompson said. “It’s one of those freak things. You see it throughout the years with hitters. ”
Ken Griffey Jr. suffered the same injury during his career with the Mariners. After surgery, the expected recovery is around five to six weeks.
“That’s a ballpark figure,’ Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. “Once the surgeon sees him and determines what he needs to do, we’ll have a better idea. But we’ve had a few guys that have had hamate injuries in the past. Ken Griffey had one and played after 23 days. That was like the far exception. Usually it averages 28-35 days.
“Once they remove the bone and sutures heal, then they start to work on tolerance and it just kind of depends on how things go from there.”
Zunino appeared in 29 games with Seattle, batting .242 with four doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI. In his past 11 games from July 8 to 25, he hit .324 with two doubles, a home run, six RBI and walked seven times. He reached base safely via hit or walk in 10 of the 11 games, and had the game-winning RBI in each his of his past three starts.
The Mariners have used six different catchers this season. With Zunino out, Quintero will split time with 41-year-old Henry Blanco, whom the Mariners signed in June after he was released by the Blue Jays. Blanco has played 26 games this season between the two teams and is hitting .171 with a home run and seven RBI.
Since Blanco has had more time with the Mariners’ pitching staff, Thompson indicated he might shoulder more of the catching duties for now.
“We’re going to lean on him quite a bit here on out,” Thompson said.
Quintero arrived at Safeco Field on Friday night just after batting practice. Now that he’s joined the team, “we’ll sit down as a group and figure (the catching duties) out,” Thompson said.
“We’ll probably split time and do the matchup thing and go from there. One thing about it, Henry (Blanco) does know the pitchers now and has caught most of them. So (with Quintero), we’ll pick our spots on how to break him in with our pitching staff.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.