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7/23/2014 4:06 P.M. ET

Zunino providing value with little experience

SEATTLE -- Though Mike Zunino is hitting only .204 this season, the young catcher is the least of Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon's concerns as the club heads toward the final two months of the season.

The 23-year-old backstop has solidified the Mariners' defense behind the plate, worked extremely well with a pitching staff that ranks among the best in baseball and has done damage -- 30 of his 58 hits entering Wednesday have gone for extra bases -- when he's made contact.

The rest of Zunino's offensive game will come with time, McClendon says, pointing out that the youngster played only one year in the Minors -- with 364 at-bats -- before his midseason promotion last year.

"I keep reminding everybody of this: Zunino is just a puppy," McClendon said. "He's got a total of about 600 at-bats in his professional career. I remember having a conversation with Magglio Ordonez one day in Detroit and I said, 'You came right into the big leagues and hit well.' And he said, 'I had 5,000 at-bats before I got to the big leagues.' Zunino has 600. We all forget that."

McClendon was asked about Zunino's approach on a fifth inning at-bat in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Mets when he popped out to shallow left with a runner on third and one out.

"Everybody thinks it's easy," McClendon said. "It's not that easy to drive in runs. This guy is learning on the job. He'll get better at that stuff. The only way you get better is to fail, and unfortunately it hurts sometimes when you fail. But he's fine.

"He just has to keep going out there and experiencing it. He doesn't have any choice. He's in the big leagues. That's no fault of his. He had to come to the big leagues because they didn't have anybody else and he's pretty good at his craft. He just has to go out and get the experience. And sometimes it's going to look ugly. But I've seen veteran guys that can't get a runner in from third with no outs or one out. He'll be OK."

The Mariners only had a runner in scoring position one other time in Tuesday's game, with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both striking out in the first inning with James Jones on second base.

Ramirez optioned after impressive start

SEATTLE -- Erasmo Ramirez was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster for Wednesday's starter Taijuan Walker, but the young right-hander left a positive impression with Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon.

Ramirez allowed just two runs on five hits with 10 strikeouts over seven innings in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Mets. So while Ramirez's record fell to 1-5 with a 4.35 ERA, his confidence was bolstered by an outing that reminded the Mariners more of the pitcher who opened the season as their No. 2 starter while Hisashi Iwakuma was sidelined.

"I'm sure that was a big boost," McClendon said. "He pitched a real good game last night. And really, you could argue that he probably should have shut them out [if not for a misplayed line drive by James Jones in center field]. He did very well."

With Walker back in the rotation, James Paxton nearing his return and Ramirez pitching better, the Mariners' depth is improving behind Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Chris Young and Roenis Elias.

"We're getting there," McClendon said. "I know it's an old cliché, but it's true. You just never have enough pitching. During the course of the year, you're going to need probably eight or nine starters. If you look at the track record of most teams, year in and year out, you do go to that seventh and eighth starter a lot. We're no different."

Paxton feels good, eyes third rehab start

SEATTLE -- James Paxton said he felt great on Wednesday after throwing three innings in his second rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday night, which is no small step for the rookie left-hander.

The first time Paxton went through the rehab process this year following a strained lat muscle, he had to be shut down after experiencing further pain in his shoulder the day after his first rehab start. But he's now two outings into his latest return, and no red flags have been raised.

Paxton said he expects to make his next rehab start Sunday in Tacoma in a 1:35 p.m. PT game against Sacramento, then will see what happens.

"It's a big deal to be able to come back the next day and play catch and have no pain," Paxton said Wednesday after rejoining the Mariners at Safeco Field. "It's a good feeling."

Paxton had a rough first inning Tuesday against Las Vegas and wound up allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits with a walk and four strikeouts in his three frames. But the 6-foot-5 southpaw finished strong, retiring eight of the last nine batters faced, and said things are heading in the right direction.

"The last two innings were really good," he said. "That felt closer to normal for me. The first inning I was aiming the ball a little and it just felt like I was pushing the ball in there a little bit. But then I just tried to forget about location a little bit and just go after guys like I do when I'm feeling good, and it worked out a lot better for me, as the results showed. I definitely made progress in that start and I feel like next time out, I'll keep on making progress."

Manager Lloyd McClendon says Paxton will need at least one more rehab start, but is happy to see positive steps from a pitcher who has gone 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in six Major League starts.

"I was very pleased," McClendon said. "He got it up to 70 pitches -- 60 in the game and 10 in the bullpen. And he felt good, so that was big."

Worth noting

• NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Sunday's 1:10 p.m. PT game against the Orioles as part of a Mariners celebration of the contributions of African Americans in the Seattle community.

The pregame African American Heritage Day ceremony will also include former Sonics star Fred Brown, Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean, real estate developer Theresa Frank, architect Donald King, former Mount Zion Baptist Church pastor Rev. Samuel McKinney, and Herb Simpson, the last known surviving member of the Seattle Steelheads Negro Leagues team.

• McClendon said Iwakuma will pitch Tuesday's game in Cleveland as the Mariners open a six-game road trip following an off-day on Monday. That means the club will skip Walker's next turn and keep Iwakuma and the other starters on a normal four days' rest.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.