If Seattle Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz is again voted into the American League lineup for the All-Star Game, it will be as a designated hitter.
Major League Baseball placed Cruz among the DH candidates Wednesday when it released its All-Star ballot. He was voted last year as the starting DH while playing for Baltimore.
Cruz projects again as a top candidate — he leads the majors with 22 RBIs and 10 homers — but he played the outfield in 14 of the Mariners’ first 20 games.
Balloting commenced Wednesday and runs through 8:59 p.m. (PDT) on July 2. Fans can vote a maximum of 35 times. The All-Star Game is July 14 in Cincinnati.
This year, for the first time, all balloting will be conducted online. There will be no in-stadium ballots. MLB said 16 million paper ballots last year went unused.
The Mariners, as is usual, have nine nominees on the AL ballot, three outfielders and one at each of the other positions.
Second baseman Robinson Cano is seeking a sixth consecutive start and a seventh overall appearance. Third baseman Kyle Seager is seeking his first start after being selected last year as a reserve.
The club’s other nominees:
Catcher Mike Zunino, first baseman Logan Morrison, shortstop Brad Miller and outfielders Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson and Seth Smith.
Seager, who is nursing a sore left thumb, wasn’t in the starting lineup after playing every inning of the first 20 games.
“It’s just the kind of annoying little thing that happens over the course of the year,” he said. “Stuff like this happens all of the time. You just play through it and not make an issue about it.”
Seager said the injury occurred about a week ago when jammed on a pitch. Coincidence or not, he has just four hits over his past 23 at-bats, and his average had dropped from .314 to .270.
“He’s probably going outside the zone a little too much,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but it could be affecting him a little bit. That’s another reason to give him a day.”
Seager entered the game in the eighth inning, extending his streak of games played to 147, which ranks fourth in the majors behind Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria (264), Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman (189) and Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre (161).
Cano took an extra round of early batting practice in an effort to break out of a slump but went 0 for 5, extending his hitless streak to 18 at-bats.
“I think he’s been going outside the zone a little bit," McClendon said. “He recognizes that. He’s had a couple of mechanical things that probably led to that. We’ll clean those up.”
Cano’s longest hitless streak last season was 14 at-bats from June 24-29. He ended that drought with a home run.
HULTZEN TO PITCH
Left-hander Danny Hultzen is slotted for his first start in nearly 18 months Friday when he pitches for Double-A Jackson against visiting Pensacola.
Hultzen opened the season in extended spring training in his continuing recovery from major shoulder surgery, which forced him to miss all of last season.
The Mariners selected Hultzen with the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. He was 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 32 starts in 2012-13 before undergoing surgery.
Hultzen’s last minor league start was Sept. 1, 2013, for Triple-A Tacoma against Sacramento. That came after he rested his shoulder for roughly two months, but he lasted just two innings.
Hultzen underwent surgery Oct. 1, 2013, to repair his labrum and rotator cuff.
Veteran reliever Mark Lowe continues to position himself as a promotion possibility for the the big league bullpen after posting another scoreless outing Tuesday for Triple-A Tacoma.
Lowe, 31, has allowed just one run and seven hits in eight innings over six appearances for the Rainiers. He also has 11 strikeouts and has yet to walk a batter.
The catch is promoting Lowe would force the Mariners to make a corresponding space-clearing move on their 40-man roster.
Lowe has a 4.16 ERA in 271 appearances over parts of nine big league seasons, but he has spent much of the past two years in the minors.
He appeared in 162 games for the Mariners from 2006-10 and returned to organization in December by signing a minor league contract.
It was five years ago Thursday — April 30, 2010 — that Cliff Lee made his Mariners’ debut by pitching seven scoreless innings against Texas at Safeco Field.
Lee settled for a no-decision because the game remained scoreless until the Rangers struck for two runs in the 12th inning against Brandon League for a 2-0 victory.
The Mariners, entering Wednesday, had played a club-record 16 consecutive games decided by three or fewer runs. The Mariners were 8-8 in those games. … Mariners have had 117 bases-loaded opportunities since their last grand slam, by Brad Miller on Sept. 28, 2013 against Oakland. … The Mariners won the first two games at Texas by scores of 3-1 and 2-1. Prior to this series, they were 5-62 when scoring three or fewer runs at Globe Life Park (which opened in 1994).
The Mariners open a four-game weekend series at first-place Houston at 5:10 p.m. (PDT) Thursday at Minute Maid Park.
Lefty James Paxton (0-2, 6.86 ERA) will face Astros right-hander Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.81) in the opener. It will be broadcast on Roots Sports and 710-AM.