HOUSTON — Nelson Cruz is climbing into some rarified territory after hitting two more homers Saturday night and boosting his season total to 13, which leads the majors.
The only other Mariner to hit 13 games in the first 24 games of the season was Ken Griffey Jr., in 1997. That was the first of two straight seasons that Junior finished with 56.
“I’ve been in a pretty nice groove for the last few weeks,” Cruz admitted. “It’s nice. Hopefully, I keep doing it.”
Cruz is just the eighth player in big-league history to hit at least 13 homers in his club’s first 24 games. The last player to do it was Alex Rodriguez, who had 14 in 2007 in the Yankees’ first 24 games.
“Hopefully, when we get runners on,” Cruz said, “I can do that damage also. Right now, it seems whenever I have runners on, I leave them out there.”
Maybe so, but Cruz also has 25 RBIs, which puts him on a pace to finish with 169.
CANO HEATING UP
Look hard enough, and there is at least one other notable glimmer in the Mariners’ disappointing attack in three days of tough losses to the Astros.
Robinson Cano shows signs of emerging from one of the poorest stretches of his career.
“You get hot,” he said, “and you go through slumps, but I’ve felt much better (the last two days). But there’s no excuses for what happened.”
What happened, before the Mariners arrived at Minute Maid Park, was Cano limped though an 0-for-18 skid that matched the longest hitless streak of his 11-year career.
He broke that slide in his first at-bat Thursday and has five hits in 13 at-bats over the three games against Houston.
“Robby has a tremendous track record,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “When it’s all said and done, his numbers are going to be right where they’re supposed to be.
“He went through this (early) last year. We had the same conversations. He’s going to hit. Robby is going to be Robby.”
The Mariners could use it sooner than later.
Slumping left fielder Dustin Ackley didn’t start Saturday against Houston right-hander Collin McHugh, which could mark the start of diminished playing time as the Mariners search for better lineup punch.
That Ackley didn’t start Saturday was, in itself, no surprise; he was hitless in 13 career at-bats against McHugh. McClendon opted instead for Rickie Weeks, who had been 1-for-4 against McHugh.
But Ackley is also batting .190 and mired in a 4-for-38 slide over his last 13 games. McClendon acknowledged it’s “a possibility” Weeks and Justin Ruggiano could see increased playing time against right-handed pitchers.
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen reported no day-after problems after testing his recovery from a hyperextended right elbow Friday by throwing about 25 pitches in a bullpen workout.
Friday’s session marked Wilhelmsen’s first time of throwing from a mound since suffering the injury April 11 in a pregame workout in Oakland. Two days later, he was placed on the disabled list.
Plans call for Wilhelmsen to throw another bullpen workout prior to Sunday’s game. Barring setbacks, he is on track to be activated in mid-May.
Triple-A Tacoma manager Pat Listach had kind words for veteran left-hander Joe Saunders, who chose to become a free agent Friday by exercising an out clause in his minor-league contract.
“Guys have outs in their contracts that say, `if I’m not in the big leagues by a certain, time I can go search for another team to play for,’” Listach said. “And he exercised his out. That’s his right. Guys on every team have outs.
“Maybe it will bring a better chance for him to get to the big leagues with another organization. I wish him the best. He was a true professional while he was here, and I hate to see him go.”
Lo-A Clinton right-hander Daniel Missaki said he didn’t get nervous Friday night in contributing seven innings to a combined no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Cedar Rapids until he left the game.
Not while he was pitching.
“No, because I wasn’t thinking about that,” he told MiLB.com. “I was just thinking about helping the team to win.”
Missaki, 19, retired the first 20 batters before issuing a two-out walk in the seventh. He struck out the next hitter, which ended the inning, before the LumberKings went to the bullpen.
Kody Kerski and Troy Scott closed out the gem by pitching one inning apiece.
“That was awesome,” Missaki said. "I was little bit nervous after I finished.”
Missaki signed with the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent shortly after pitching for Brazil in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in five starts at Clinton.
Hi-A Bakersfield right-hander Edwin Diaz was picked by Baseball America to its all-prospect team for April after going 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five starts.
The magazine cited 13 players: one for each defensive position and five pitchers. It said Diaz “has been particularly impressive in April, when he struck out 27 in 25 innings and did not allow a home run.
“That last feat is particularly impressive because he made four of his five starts at home in Bakersfield, one of the top home run parks in the minors.”
Diaz, 21, was a third-round pick in 2012 and entered the season ranked No. 6 on the TNT Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects.
It was 17 years ago Sunday — May 3, 1998 — that Dan Wilson hit an inside-the-park grand slam against Frank Castillo in a 10-6 victory over Detroit at the Kingdome.
Wilson circled the bases on a two-liner off the wall in left-center field. Left fielder Luis Gonzalez just missed a leaping catch, and the ball caromed hard back onto the field and away from center fielder Brian Hunter.
The Mariners scored five runs in the first and five more in the second in support of Randy Johnson, who wasn’t at his best in allowing six runs in seven innings. Johnson did strike out 11.
WORTH ANOTHER LOOK
In case you haven't seen them, here are three videos worth a look.
The Mariners’ club-record streak of playing game decided by three or fewer runs ended at 19 games…Taijuan Walker was 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three previous starts at Minute Maid Park. He is now 3-1 with a 5.49 ERA…The Mariners had a 2.73 ERA in their previous 11 games before Saturday’s 11-4 loss.
The Mariners and Astros conclude their four-game series at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Left-hander J.A. Happ (2-1, 2.3) will face Houston righty Roberto Hernandez (1-2, 3.80).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM.
After Sunday’s series finale, the Mariners travel to Anaheim for a three-game series that completes their three-city, 10-game trip.