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Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta avoiding slow start that plagued him a year ago

Mariners acquired catcher Chris Iannetta for his defensive skills, but they’re pleased that he’s avoided the stumbling offensive start that plagued him a year ago with the Angels. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Mariners acquired catcher Chris Iannetta for his defensive skills, but they’re pleased that he’s avoided the stumbling offensive start that plagued him a year ago with the Angels. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Bob Dutton Tacoma News Tribune

CLEVELAND – Any assessment of the Mariners at this point comes with the disclaimer heading of “small sample size.” That includes veteran catcher Chris Iannetta and his .276 average.

But … it’s still worth noting that at 8-for-29 through 10 games, Iannetta already has more hits than he had a year ago through 66 at-bats in 22 games while playing for the Los Angeles Angels.

More than anyone, perhaps, Iannetta knows that even a small sample size isn’t irrelevant.

“That was a rough stretch,” he admitted. “It weighed on me from the beginning of last season, all through last season, all through my workouts in the offseason, in spring training.

“It was definitely on my mind (coming into this season). It was something I definitely didn’t want to do (again).”

The Mariners signed Iannetta, 33, to one-year deal last November as a free agent primarily because they wanted a veteran catcher with proven defensive and pitch-calling skills.

General manager Jerry Dipoto also felt he knew what he was getting. He made the same move four years earlier, albeit through a trade, when serving as the Angels’ general manager.

“Regardless of whether we get Chris’ best offensive season or just an average Chris Iannetta offensive season,” Dipoto said, “he’s a player who brings us stability behind the plate.”

The Mariners were also confident that Iannetta was poised to rebound after batting a career-low .188 last season in 92 games for the Angels. They pointed to a .225 average on balls in play; the league average was .296.

“Chris had a terrifically poor year in terms of batting average on balls in play,” Dipoto said, “which is usually indicative of being a bit unlucky. He does have right-hand power. He still has an excellent walk rate.

“Chris has always drawn deep at-bats and gets on base. Even relative to a rough year for batting average, the other numbers all stacked up. As a result, I think Chris is a good candidate for a bounce-back season offensively.”

Even so, Iannetta is a grinder – that’s manager Scott Servais’ term – and, as he admitted, last year weighed on him.

Here he was this spring with a new team, trying to learn and coordinate a new pitching staff, and nonetheless worried about his offensive production.

“I want to contribute,” he said. “I want to win. Winning is first and foremost. But I don’t feel I’ve done my job as a baseball player unless I contribute to that.”

Servais believed Iannetta was putting too much pressure on himself, which led to a meeting late in spring training with a simple message:


“He was so locked in to trying to get off to a good start,” Servais said. “He felt he got buried early in the year, and he could never dig himself out of the hole. As hard as you want to try, sometimes (trying harder) can make it worse.”

Iannetta tweaked his swing this spring under hitting coach Edgar Martinez, and he tried hard to concentrate on the revised approach and not the results.

“I took the entire spring to make some adjustments and not care if I went 0-for-3 or didn’t have good at-bats,” he said. “I knew what I was working on, and I wanted to get that under control before anything else.”

Even so, it helped that he got off to a good start over the season’s opening series at Texas. Getting three hits and three RBIs in last Friday’s victory at New York provided another jolt of validation.

“I feel good,” he said. “It’s early. … To focus on statistics now is not the best thing to do. So for me, I’m just focusing on how I feel. I feel good with the work that I’m putting in. I feel like I’m seeing it well.

“If those two things are going in the right direction, then I’m happy.”

Minor awards

The catcher whom Iannetta replaced as the Mariners’ starter, Mike Zunino, was named Monday as the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for April 7-17 after batting .441 (15-for-34) at Triple-A Tacoma with four home runs and 11 RBIs.

Zunino, 25, had hits in all eight games and hit homers in four straight games through Sunday’s victory at Albuquerque.

The Rainiers haven’t had a non-pitcher win a PCL weekly honor since infielder Nick Franklin was picked as the player of the week for April 22-28, 2013. Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang was the PCL pitcher of the week for Aug. 10-16, 2015.

Looking back

It was 26 years ago Tuesday – April 19, 1990 – that Martinez, in his first season as a regular, went 3-for-4 with two doubles in a 5-2 loss at Oakland.

Martinez led the Mariners that season with a .302 average and a 5.5 WAR (wins above replacement) rating while cementing himself as a lineup fixture for the next 15 years.

On tap

The Mariners open a three-game series against the Indians at 3:10 p.m. PDT Tuesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

Lefty Wade Miley (0-1, 8.25 ERA) makes his first career appearance at Cleveland when he faces Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco (1-0, 3.46). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.

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