After earning a 2-0 shutout win behind the sterling performance of Hisashi Iwakuma Monday night, the Mariners made an unexpected move to get better.
They recalled Triple-A catcher Jesus Sucre and designated the veteran John Buck for assignment immediately following the win for that sole purpose. McClendon stated it simply: “He makes this team better.”
Buck, who turned 34 Monday, played in 27 games for the Mariners and hit .226 with one home run and six RBI. Yes, he was released on his birthday, but Buck was progressively becoming ever more unreliable defensively, making it difficult for McClendon to run him out there in relief of Mike Zunino.
In 164 innings behind the plate, Buck threw out 21 percent of runners and allowed 11 passed balls. Contrast that with Zunino who has two passed balls in 630.2 innings.
And consider this: Zunino has caught every one of Felix Hernandez’s and Hisashi Iwakuma’s starts. That’s not by mere coincidence.
So up comes Sucre who made his debut last June, playing eight games with the Mariners before fracturing a bone his hand on a foul tip. It never fully healed for the rest of the season and Sucre subsequently never made it back.
In the time since, Sucre has continued being the defensive whiz that he is behind the plate for the Rainiers while making a surge at the plate. Sucre hit .345 in 15 games in the month of June.
The offensive improvement helped force the move, but for McClendon his merit is still solely about defense.
“I think he’s one of those shutdown type of catchers,” McClendon said. “(He’s) throwing out over 50 percent of his runners . . . He’s a tremendous receiver, the pitchers like throwing to him.”
His defensive skills will allow McClendon to throttle back the usage of starter Mike Zunino, who ranks among the heaviest used backstops in the American League. McClendon mentioned Sucre’s familiarity with the entire pitching staff, all of whom excluding Chris Young he’s caught extensively, as a key factor in his recall.
“We need to make sure that (Zunino) gets the proper amount of rest,” said McClendon. “With Sucre, we don’t need to worry about who’s pitching.”
“His bat was always the point of concern, but he’s been swinging it much better,” McClendon said. “He’s going to be fine.”