ARLINGTON, Texas — Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz, who leads the majors in home runs and RBIs, has long contended he hits and plays better when he’s not the designated hitter.
“DHing is boring,” he said shortly after signing his four-year deal last December for $57 million. “But I understand my role. I’m here to play, and I’m here to contribute in whatever the role might be. I’m here to help.”
So far, there’s no debate: Cruz helps a lot more when he’s playing in the outfield. He entered Tuesday batting .382 (21-for-55) with all nine of his homers and 19 of his 21 RBIs in 14 games as a right fielder.
In contrast: Cruz was just 5-for-24 in six games as a DH with just two RBIs — even after a 3-for-4 effort in Tuesday's 2-1 victory over the Rangers.
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A small sample size?
Consider Cruz has a .254/.310/.475 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 125 career games as a DH. As an outfielder, his slash is .273/.333/.512 for 843 career games.
So why wasn’t he in the outfield for Tuesday’s game against Texas?
“When I think he needs a day for his legs,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “I give it to him. If not, I play him in the outfield.”
Cruz is 34, turns 35 in July, and faded noticeably last season after the All-Star break following a big first half.
“I reassess it every day,” McClendon said. “He could DH again (Wednesday) depending on how he feels. I’ve got to make sure I keep him healthy. I’ve got to be smart about it.”
The Mariners’ only trip to this season to troubled Baltimore is May 19-21 at the conclusion of the Orioles’ next scheduled homestand.
Major League Baseball responded to ongoing riots near Camden Yards by postponing games Monday and Tuesday against the White Sox and allowing no fan admittance to Wednesday’s game, which was shifted to the afternoon.
MLB also shifted the Orioles’ upcoming three-game weekend series against the Rays to Tampa Bay. The Orioles then embark on a six-game road trip before their scheduled May 11 return to Camden Yards against Toronto.
The Blue Jays and Angels have three-game series in Baltimore prior to the Mariners’ arrival on May 19. For the Mariners, that series marks that start of a three-city trip that continues in Toronto before concluding in Tampa Bay.
SEEING WITH TWO EYES
Outfielder Justin Ruggiano drew a second consecutive start Tuesday for the first time this season after getting two key walks as the leadoff hitter in Monday’s 3-1 victory over Texas.
Ruggiano opened the game with a walk and came around to score in a two-run first inning and, after Texas scored in the fifth, drew a two-out walk in the fifth. He stole second and scored on Seth Smith’s single.
That keen eye was the result of some adjustments.
“Honestly, I haven’t been seeing the ball as well as I’d like to,” he said. “I’ve been doing some things to adjust to right-handers and I think I was actually able to get two eyes on the ball and slow the ball down a little bit.
“I had a pretty good look at the ball (on Monday). I felt really comfortable, actually, for not playing in a while.”
Concerned by the Mariners’ 8-11 record going into Tuesday’s game against the Rangers? The stat mavens at Fangraphs.com have some encouraging projections.
Their computations still show the Mariners as having the best chance to win the American League West Division at 36.9 percent. The Los Angeles Angels rate second at 30.0 percent.
Then it drops to the Houston, which entered the day with a three-game lead, at 17.9 percent, Oakland at 14.6 percent, and Texas at 0.5.
Fangraphs.com also rated the Mariners as having a 52.0-percent chance of reaching postseason either as a division winner or wild-card qualifier. That ranked third among AL teams behind Detroit (75.2) and Boston (68.1).
How about this gem from the Elias Sports Bureau: Cruz is just the third player since 1920 to open the season with at least 20 hits and 20 RBIs in fewer than 20 games in successive seasons for different different clubs.
The achievement dates to 1920 because that’s when RBIs became an official stat.
Anyway…Cruz entered Tuesday with 23 hits and 21 RBIs in 19 games. A year ago, he had 22 hits and 21 RBIs in 19 games for Baltimore.
The others on the list were also AL outfielders: Joe Rudi with the Athletics in 1976 and the Angels in 1977; Manny Ramirez with the Indians in 2000 and the Red Sox in 2001.
Triple-A Tacoma shortstop Chris Taylor appears fully recovered from a broken right wrist and is again pushing hard for a spot on the big-league roster.
Taylor went 3-for-5 on Monday in the Rainiers’ 6-5 loss at Sacramento and now has a .328/.380/.500 slash through 16 games.
That puts some pressure on Brad Miller to minimize games like Monday, when he had a run-scoring throwing error and committed a base-running blunder in the 3-1 victory over Texas.
Overall, though, Miller has been solid since winning the shortstop job by default in spring training when Taylor suffered an injury March 13 when hit by a foul ball on his wrist.
Miller entered Tuesday’s game with a .293/.323/.431 slash while playing in all 19 games. His error Monday was just his second of the season, but he had a minus-2 total zone rating in runs saved above/below average.
Two notable anniversaries occur Wednesday in Mariners history:
***It was 29 years ago — April 29, 1986 — that Boston right-hander Roger Clemens set a major-league record with 20 strikeouts in a 3-1 victory over the Mariners at the Kingdome.
***It was 16 years ago — April 29, 1999 — that the Mariners set a franchise record for runs in a 22-6 victory over Detroit at the Kingdome. Their 11-run fifth inning was also a club record. Ken Griffey Jr. had six RBIs.
Felix Hernandez enters his start Wednesday needing just six strikeouts to pass Johan Santana as MLB’s all-time leader among Venezuelan-born pitchers. Hernandez has 1,983; Santana is currently on the Toronto’s disabled list…The Mariners have issued 12 intentional walks, which leads the majors…Nelson Cruz not only entered Tuesday leading the majors with 21 RBIs. He also led the majors with eight go-ahead RBIs and five game-winning RBIs.
The Mariners and Rangers conclude their three-game series at 5:05 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-0, 1.61.) will face Texas lefty Wandy Rodriguez (1-0, 1.80). Hernandez is coming off a shutout victory over Minnesota.
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.