PEORIA, Ariz. — All early signs point to Nelson Cruz spending increased time this season as the Mariners’ designated hitter.
Manager Scott Servais declined to identify any targeted split for Cruz in terms of playing right field and serving as the DH but left no ambiguity regarding the over-riding priority.
"They big thing for us is to have him in the lineup for 155-to-160 games," Servais said. "That’s the goal. Is there a set number (of games in right field or DH)? No there is not."
Cruz, 35, started 80 games last season in right field and played 72 as the designated hitter — including sole duty as a DH over the final 22 games after suffering a strained right quadriceps injury.
"Last year," Servais acknowledged, "the numbers played out that he actually hit a little better when he was in the field. And Nelson wants to play the field. I’ve never met a player who doesn’t want to play in the field."
Cruz produced at a far higher rate when playing right field.
He had 31 homers and 59 RBIs in 346 plate appearances in his 80 games as a right fielder while batting .337 with a .402 on-base percentage and a .670 slugging percentage.
In 309 plate appearances as a DH, he had 13 homers and 34 RBIs with a .263/.333/.450 slash. Those numbers are skewed somewhat because Cruz slumped in the final month while battling that strained quad: a .247/.301/.424 slash.
Cruz said he "doesn’t know" how often he’s likely to be a DH, but he acknowledged he needs to find a more effective routine when filling that role.
"It’s easy when you’re doing good," he said. "You don’t have to think about anything. But when you’re struggling a little bit, you think too much — videos, (extra) hitting, what should I do?
"But I have to find a routine to keep me on (track) so I don’t have to think too much about hitting."
That could be a key to the season because the Mariners’ realigned roster points Cruz toward increased DH time. The club added Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin to be its primary left and center fielders.
That positions Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez to split time in right.
"We need to do the right thing (with Cruz)," Servais said. "Be smart. And what he does well is listen to his body.
"That’s the advantage of a veteran player. They kind of know how they’re feeling and how to combat when they don’t feel things are going real well physically."
It’s easy to read too much into stuff like this, but it’s nonetheless interesting to see how the Mariners lined up their "cage groups" for extra batting practice in spring training.
The general rule is experience gets the later time.
7 a.m: Bengi Gonzalez, Marcus Littlewood, Dario Pizzano and Tyler Smith.
7:15 a.m.: Shawn O’Malley, Steve Lerud, Boog Powell and Steve Baron.
7:30 a.m.: Daniel Robertson, Jesus Montero, Mike Baxter and Ed Lucas.
7:45 a.m.: Ketel Marte, Leonys Martin, Chris Taylor and Luis Sardinas.
8 a.m.: Mike Zunino, Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger and Nori Aoki.
8:15 a.m.: Dae-Ho Lee, Franklin Gutierrez, Seth Smith and Gaby Sanchez.
8:30 a.m.: Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Adam Lind.
ON BEING BLOND
Nelson Cruz sharpened his needle after seeing teammate Felix Hernandez with blond hair and matching goatee.
"It’s bad," Cruz said. "I don’t know what he’s thinking. He’s old. He’s a mature guy in his way."
And, no, Cruz has no plans to become a blond.
PRICE OF SPRING
Planning to see the Mariners in spring training? The median ticket price for one of their Cactus League games is $42, according to Vivid Seats, a secondary ticket marketplace.
That ranks right about in the middle.
The Chicago Cubs have the highest median price at $69 for their games in Mesa, followed by three Florida-based teams: Boston ($55), Atlanta ($54) and the New York Mets ($52).
The Los Angeles Angels have the second-highest median price in Arizona at $50.
Looking for a bargain?
Milwaukee’s games in Maryvale has a median price of $30.
Vivid Seats also lists the median prices for all regular-season openers. The median price for the Mariners’ game at Texas on April 4 is $232, which ranks fifth among all clubs.
The Mariners’ home opener on April 8 against Oakland ranks 16th with a median price of $155. The highest median ticket for an opener is World Series rematch on April 3 when the Mets play at Kansas City: $416.
The cheapest? Washington at Atlanta on April 4: $81.
The Mariners open full-squad drills Thursday and, as usual, the workout will be preceded by a meeting and a welcoming speech from manager. It’s a talk that, for Servias, is 28 years in the making.
Asked whether he planned to practice Wednesday night in front of a mirror, he hedged initially before acknowledging: "Ahhh….yes. I’m not going to lie to you guys. I’m excited.
"This is my 28th spring training, and I’ve certainly heard a lot of speeches. But you want to be yourself. That’s what I will convey to the group. This is who I am, and also let them be themselves."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners