Zunino gets another day off; Smoak back in lineup

With a stretch of 36 games in 37 days and some difficult travel, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon continued trying to do what he could Friday to keep his players fresh.

Veteran backup catcher John Buck got the start in place of Mike Zunino for the second straight game in the 4:10 p.m. PT series opener against the Rays, which McClendon said allowed Buck to face a pitcher he’s hit well in the past in Erik Bedard while giving Zunino an extra day.

“Zunino is fine. He’ll catch probably all three day games [in the next three days],” McClendon said. “This is an opportunity to get Buck in there and at the same time, my regular catcher is going to have three days off, so he should be good and strong.

“He’s fine. He’s a big, strong kid. But they all get tired at some point and you have to be smart about how you pick and choose those days off. We’ve tried to be intelligent about this and hopefully it works.”

Buck is 4-for-7 in his career against Bedard going into Friday’s game.

Meanwhile, first baseman Justin Smoak was back in the lineup after being replaced Wednesday by Willie Bloomquist. The Mariners then had Thursday off, their first rest after 16 straight games, and now will play 20 more in a row.

“He’s had two days to rest up and get off that leg,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he’ll get back on the right path and start swinging the bat the way he’s capable of swinging.”

Smoak said he was feeling better, though noting it’s tough to tell how the leg is until testing it in a game.

“I’m just trying to fight through it a little bit,” said Smoak, who still is the only Mariner to have played in every game after he pinch hit in Wednesday’s 2-0 win in Atlanta. “Yesterday was real nice, to finally just sit back and relax a little. And now we’ve got 20 in a row. So you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.”

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