PEORIA, Ariz. — Nelson Cruz donned a Batman T-shirt Wednesday after completing his first official workout as a Mariner. This isn’t Fellini. The message is easily grasped.
The Mariners are doling out $57 million to Cruz over the next four years because he can hit: He led the majors last season with 40 homers while playing at Baltimore and finished with a .525 slugging percentage.
Point to note: Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager led the Mariners last season with a .454 slugging percentage. Current plans call for them to bracket Cruz in this year’s lineup.
And while, yes, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is, as often noted, far more hitter-friendly than Safeco Field…let's just say Cruz isn’t concerned.
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” he said. “All I can do is what I can do. When the day comes, whatever happens will happen. I try to hit line drives. If it goes out, it goes out. That’s my approach.”
This is a player, after all, who uses @NCBoomstick23 as his twitter handle. The Mariners don’t appear to be concerned either.
“I’ve heard the critics say, `Well, he won’t hit home runs in Safeco,’” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He didn’t have any problem hitting them last year…he made it look real small last year.”
Cruz hit one of the year’s more-impressive homers at Safeco — a booming low laser to left field last July against Felix Hernandez. The ball got out in a hurry, and Cruz now smiles at the memory.
“I like to face the best,” he said, “and (Hernandez) is one of the best. Every time I got ready to face him, it was a special day. I got pumped up and ready to go. And I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore.”
Cano pushed the Mariners to sign Cruz, who turns 35 on July 1. The two grew close prior to the 2013 season as teammates on the Dominican Republic club that won the World Baseball Classic.
“I know what kind of guy he is,” Cano said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s going to like it here. He’s a great guy. He likes to compete. He’s a great guy. That’s what you want on your team.”
Cruz played for postseason clubs in four of the last five seasons and chose to sign with the Mariners, in part, because he liked the possibility of continuing that run.
“It’s everything,” he said. “That what I work for. All season, everything I do is with that mind-set — go to the playoffs. Be ready for that situation.”
Cruz came within one pitch of a World Series title in 2011 while playing for Texas. That near-miss still rankles.
“Oh, no doubt,” he said. “I carry that with me. I want to win. Until I get that done, it’s going to be there. Once you’re there, you want to be there every year.
“That’s why I made the decision to come here and be part of this.”
Cruz joins the Mariners more than a year removed from a 50-game suspension stemming from his 2013 involvement in the Biogenesis drug scandal.
That incident raised doubts a year ago when Cruz hit the free-agent market, although the Mariners showed strong interest before backing away. Cruz eventually signed a one-year deal with the Orioles for $8 million.
Forty homers, steroids-free, eased those concerns.
“It is what it is,” Cruz said. “I’m here. My main goal right now is to play baseball. Last year was kind of easy. The year before was the tough one. I guess every year is easier.
“I think, in the long run, it helped me to know what to do and what to expect. It helped me also to be a better player.”
Whatever Cruz gives the Mariners, it figures to be better than what they received last year from their combined cleanup hitters: 19 homers, 75 RBIs and a .218 average.
“This guy is a good hitter,” McClendon said. “He hits home runs, but he’s a good hitter. He has the ability to drive in runs. I suspect he’s going to be just fine.”
“I like the shirt,” Cruz said. “I have a few other ones. Superman and stuff like that. I think this one is my favorite. You’re going to see me with this one for quite a while.”