ARLINGTON -- Mariners catcher Mike Zunino is off to a nice start with the bat this season, sharing the team lead with three home runs and nine RBIs while hitting .277 going into Thursday's series finale with the Rangers.
But the 22-year-old has been equally impressive with his work behind the dish and has shown a strong throwing arm in throwing out both Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios when they tried to steal bases Tuesday.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said coaches Trent Jewett and Mike Rojas have been working hard with Zunino, who has now thrown out three of nine attempted basestealers.
"I thought he threw the ball extremely well," McClendon said. "Trent and Mike have done a nice job making sure he's in real good position to throw and is moving toward his target. But the other part of that is the pitchers giving him a chance to throw guys out.
"When you're 1.5 or 1.6 [seconds] to the plate, you don't have much of an opportunity to throw anybody out. He's made some good throws this year and had no chance because we didn't hold the runners, so we're starting to do a better job of that as well."
"The kid can throw," said Texas manager Ron Washington. "I've read some stuff, but now I'm seeing it. He's got some pop in his bat and he can throw. Maybe we've got to stop running on him."
Jones joins Mariners for first big league stint
ARLINGTON -- Growing up in Brooklyn, James Jones is used to tall buildings. But he's never played baseball in a triple-deck Major League stadium before, so the 25-year-old was eagerly soaking in his first big league experience after joining the Mariners on Thursday at Globe Life Park for the final game of the Rangers series.
Jones got the call from the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon in Tacoma, Wash., and caught a flight to Texas, where he'll serve as an extra outfielder and potential pinch-hitter or pinch-runner when Seattle heads to Miami for an Interleague series using National League rules this weekend.
Manager Lloyd McClendon felt Jones could be helpful in an NL park, and the Mariners have an open roster spot with Blake Beavan going on the 15-day disabled list, at least until Sunday, when they'll need to replace Beavan with another starting pitcher.
So enter Jones, bearing a large smile as he gets his first taste of the Majors.
"It's a dream come true, something I've always been looking forward to," said Jones, who was hitting .310 with four home runs and seven runs scored in his first 11 games with Triple-A Tacoma. "I just want to do whatever it is to stay up here and help the team. It's been a rush, just adjusting to everything. I'm still speechless."
Tacoma manager Roy Howell pulled Jones into his office and told him the news just after he arrived at Cheney Stadium on Wednesday for early batting practice.
"I got chills," Jones said. "I called my mom first and she was shocked. I had to clarify it with her and repeat myself. She's just really happy. I really couldn't sleep last night, just thinking about everything. I haven't stopped smiling yet."
Hart ready to fill in as outfielder
ARLINGTON -- With Robinson Cano lined up to play designated hitter on Thursday for the Mariners, Corey Hart went to manager Lloyd McClendon and said he was ready to play right field.
Hart wound up hauling in four fly balls, including two fairly tough catches, in Seattle's 8-6 loss. The first ball hit to Hart was a deep drive by J.P. Arencibia that sent him back to the wall for a long running catch in the second, and he later made a nice sliding grab on an Alex Rios looping liner in the sixth.
"That probably helped," Hart said of his welcome-back shot from Arencibia. "I was hoping for a nice easy one right out of the gate, but that helped me relax after that and I was able to get the ones that came my way."
Hart hadn't played in the outfield since July 27, 2012, while with the Brewers, prior to his two microfracture knee surgeries that wiped out all of '13. But Hart worked in the outfield this spring and told McClendon he was ready to give it a run after starting at DH in 10 of Seattle's first 14 games.
"He told me he's feeling good and his knees are fine," said McClendon, who had indicated earlier in the week that it would be a while before he played Hart in the outfield. "I've got to go with my player, too. He said he's feeling pretty good. But we'll watch him. We'll keep an eye on him."
Hart is no stranger to the outfield, with 793 career starts there while with the Brewers. Only in the past few years has he shifted more to first base. The Mariners hoped to play him there after signing him to a one-year deal in free agency, but a sore right bicep in spring limited his work, and McClendon also doesn't want to push his knees too quickly.
"I'd much rather play in the field than not play in the field," Hart said. "My arm hasn't helped that issue, but you've got to start somewhere. So I'll go out there and give Robbie a break and hopefully not have any issues.
"I've just been doing regular BP stuff in the outfield. Other than that, not a ton. But I've been out there before. I don't think he's expecting me to win any awards out there right now. He just wants me to catch it when it's hit my direction."
McClendon said Hart definitely wouldn't play the outfield in the more spacious right field in Miami this weekend, but there is a possibility he could play a game at first base when the Mariners lose the designated hitter in the Interleague series.
• McClendon said he'll likely name Sunday's starter in Miami on Friday. The spot is currently open after Beaven was placed on disabled list with a sore right shoulder. Beavan had been filling in for James Paxton, who strained an oblique muscle and is also on the DL. With Taijuan Walker now shut down at least two weeks with his own right shoulder issue and Hisashi Iwakuma still a few weeks away from returning from a sprained tendon on his right middle finger, the Mariners are thin on options.
Anthony Fernandez and Brandon Maurer are the only two pitchers at Tacoma who are on the Mariners' 40-man roster. Fernandez pitched Wednesday, so he's likely not available for Sunday, which leaves Maurer as the likely option. Maurer has a 2.16 ERA in four outings for Tacoma, but he is just building up his innings after a back injury limited him during the spring, and he has totaled just 8 1/3 innings over those four games.
• After striking out nine Rangers on Wednesday, Felix Hernandez took the Major League lead with 39 strikeouts after his first four games. The 39 strikeouts are the second most in Mariners history for the first four starts of a season behind the 41 of Randy Johnson in 1996.
• Since 2009, Hernandez now has 67 career starts in which he's allowed one or fewer runs in seven or more innings. The next-closest pitcher in that span is Cliff Lee with 56. Wednesday was the 27th time Fernandez has recorded a no-decision or loss in a start when he's accomplished that feat.