CLEVELAND — While Nelson Cruz remained unavailable Wednesday as a precaution, the Seattle Mariners took a late-inning look at struggling Fernando Rodney in his first appearance since losing his closer’s role.
Cruz left Tuesday’s game in the fifth inning when his back began to spasm after he reached for a slider against Cleveland starter Corey Kluber.
“It just tightened up,” Cruz said. “I first felt it Sunday (against Tampa Bay at Safeco Field), and I played through it. On Tuesday, it was better. I didn’t feel it much when I was swinging — until I reached for the slider.
“Then I felt something, right in the middle (of his back).”
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Manager Lloyd McClendon said Cruz “could have played” Wednesday, but “I’m just not taking a chance. He’s too valuable.”
McClendon said Cruz, barring any setbacks, will start Thursday as the designated hitter in the series finale. Cruz leads the Mariners in all three Triple Crown categories: 18 homers, 39 RBIs and a .326 average.
Rodney spent the last few days attempting to tweak his delivery in an effort to regain his fastball command after a dismal stretch that saw his ERA climb to 6.94.
“I’m good,” he said. “Anytime they need me, I’m ready to go.”
That time came Wednesday in the ninth inning when the Mariners, leading 9-2, summoned Rodney to close out the game. He began the inning by allowing a pair of singles but limited the damage to one run.
“He was a little better,” McClendon said. “I thought he had better finish on the fastball. Nice and tall on the backside. The ball came out pretty good.”
While Rodney appeared sharper in recent bullpen workouts, he suggested that means little.
“When you’re working out,” he said, “sometimes you feel something isn’t working right. But we’ve been working, and everything is fine. But the only way you really know you’re fine is when you’re in the game.
“I can go and throw a bullpen and throw nice. But a bullpen, for me, doesn’t mean anything.”
The emphasis shifts now for scouting director Tom McNamara and his staff to signing the 40 players selected over the last three days in baseball’s annual amateur draft.
Clubs have until 2 p.m. on July 17 to sign players who still have college eligibility. The deadline for college seniors and any players selected from independent leagues is the start of next year’s draft.
The draft concluded Wednesday with rounds 11 through 40.
The Mariners’ final haul shows 25 pitchers, including their top two picks: Nick Neidert of Peachtree Ridge High School in Georgia, and Oregon State’s Andrew Moore.
The Mariners have a bonus pool of $4,186,900 for players in the first 10 rounds. The amount of any bonus larger than $100,000 for any player selected after the 10th round is also applied to the pool.
Neidert was one of 13 high school seniors chosen by the Mariners, who also have 10 college seniors among their 40 selections. That includes three college seniors in the first 10 rounds.
College seniors have little leverage and, typically, can be signed at below-slot value.
“We have a nice balance of high school and college players,” McNamara said. “It’s pretty easy to go out there and take college player after college player.
“If you don’t add (high school players), your minor-league system could dry up pretty quickly. All of a sudden, you have a Hi-A club and a Double-A club, and the average age is 24, 25 years old. You don’t want that.”
Moore was one of seven players chosen from Pacific-12 Conference schools. The others were Washington outfielder Braden Bishop, Stanford shortstop Drew Jackson, Arizona State pitcher Darin Gillies, Washington State pitcher Joe Pistorese, Washington State catcher P.J. Jones and Stanford pitcher Logan James.
The Mariners looked to bloodlines with their closing picks.
***Center fielder Colton Sakamoto, 37th round, is the son of Mariners scout Jeff Sakamoto.
***Shortstop Dante Ricciardi, 39th round, is the son of former Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who currently serves in the New York Mets’ front office.
***Catcher Mike Rojas Jr., 40th round, is the son of Mariners bullpen coach Mike Rojas.
First baseman Logan Morrison extended his career-best hitting streak to 16 games with a two-run double in the fourth inning. It is also the majors’ longest current hitting streak.
The last Mariner to have a 16-game hitting streak was Kyle Seager, who had a 16-game run from April 11-27, 2013. That is the longest streak of Seager’s career.
Morrison is batting .349 (22-for-63) in his streak, which boosted his average from .219 to .258. His streak includes two runs, two doubles, three RBIs and five walks.
Taijuan Walker provided the Mariners with their eighth straight quality start when he limited Cleveland to one run in six innings.
The Mariners lead the American League with 36 quality starts, and their eight-game run is the the longest of the season by an American League club.
The rotation has a 1.80 ERA over that eight-game run but is only a combined 3-3 — largely because the Mariners averaged just 1.57 runs through the first seven games before scoring nine on Wednesday.
It was 19 years ago Thursday — June 11, 1996 — that the Mariners set a franchise record by collecting 24 hits in an 18-8 romp at Minnesota.
Catcher Dan Wilson, who played collegiately nearby at Minnesota, led the way with five hits and three RBIs. Alex Rodriguez and Joey Cora each had four hits.
The 24 hits remain a club record, although the Mariners matched it on Sept. 22, 2004 in a 16-6 victory at Anaheim. Raul Ibanez went 6-for-6 in that game.
The Mariners and Indians conclude their three-game series at 9:10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday at Progressive Field. Lefty J.A. Happ (3-1, 3.31) will face Cleveland right-hander Shaun Marcum (2-0, 5.19).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.