Rookie catcher Mike Zunino, called up earlier in the week from AAA Tacoma, cracked his first major league home run, a solo shot to center on a 1-and-1 count in the seventh inning, lifting the Mariners (30-38) to a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics Friday night in the opening game of a three-game series at O.com Coliseum.
The 22-year-old Zunino, Seattle’s No. 1 draft choice in 2012 out of the University of Florida who made his MLB debut Wednesday, belted the homer off Athletics’ starter and loser Tommy Milone to break a 1-1 tie.
Apart from Zunino, the other storyline for the Mariners was starter Joe Saunders (5-6), who entered the game 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA on the road. Saunders pitched his best, away-from-Safeco game, allowing one earned run on five hits in 7.0 innings. He struck out four, walked two and got the majority of his outs on ground balls.
Zunino factored in two of of Seattle’s three runs. In the second inning, he hit into a double play, but Michael Morse, who doubled, scored.
Oakland tied it 1-1 in the fifth when Eric Sogard doubled, scoring Adam Rosales, who hit into a fielder’s choice. The Mariners added what proved to be the winning run in the eighth when, after Nick Franklin singled, Raul Ibanez drove him home with an infield hit.
Chris Young, who had three hits, smacked a massive home run off Danny Farquhar in the eighth inning to pull the Athletics to within 3-2.
Oliver Perez came on in the ninth and worked a 1-2-3 inning to record his first save of the season. Earlier Friday, manager Eric Wedge said closer Tom Wilhelmsen had been removed temporarily from the closer’s role, and that the club would adopt a closer-by-committee plan.
The second game of the series Saturday has Felix Hernandez (7-4, 2.49) against A.J. Griffin (5-5, 4.78).
NOTES: After Wilhelmsen’s four blown saves since May 20, Wedge said he will use relievers in the ninth based on matchups. “I’m not going to put it on any one guy,” he said Wedge. “Nobody is ready for that.” Wedge said that Wilhelmsen has been unable to locate his pitches and that his curve isn’t working — not good for a pitcher who has only two pitches . . . The Mariners Friday signed free agent catcher Henry Blanco, who most recently played for the Toronto Blue Jays, and designated catcher Kelly Shoppach, who had been their starter, for assignment.