ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays catcher Mike Zunino has struggled at the plate throughout the season’s first three weeks, but his three-hit night in Wednesday’s 8-1 win over Balitmore finally allowed Zunino to see some positive results for making hard contact.
Zunino is a player who typically makes solid contact, and his hard-contact rate -- according to FanGraphs -- of 38.2 percent this season is actually higher than his career rate of 34.2 percent. Despite that, Zunino is hitting just .181 on the season, and before Wednesday, he was just 6-for-43 at the plate.
"I've been through a lot in my career," Zunino said. "I've been through stretches where I haven't been swinging the bat well and I felt completely lost. This was a little stretch where I was starting to drive balls five, six days ago and some hit where I didn't drive the ball very well fell. It's just one of those things where you trust the process and trusting what I want to do and knowing it's a long season."
Zunino has typically been a slow starter, his career slash line in March and April is .194/.243/.344.
On Wednesday, all three of his hits had exit velocities of 98 mph or higher, each one registering as hard contact. His fourth-inning double had an exit velocity of 112.3 mph and his eighth-double came off the bat at 106.2 mph.
“Z’s had a track record for hitting the ball really hard,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “And I know he got off to a slow start, but it looks like he’s simplified some stuff. ... It’s nice to get his bat going because he’s a guy who can get it going with one swing.”
Zunino credits Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola for helping him through his slump.
“As we were watching stuff and going through stuff, I was taking myself out of some at bats with maybe trying to hit myself out of it and not being patient," Zunino said. "But just his level of calmness and trust (is good) and knowing you can walk away from an at bat without a hit and going in the right direction.”
Follow Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.