Designated hitter Nelson Cruz roared through much of March. He batted .421 with four doubles and two homers in his first eight Cactus League games sandwiched around a strong performance in the World Baseball Classic.
Then he came down with the flu.
Cruz missed five days in late March and, since returning, has yet to recapture his swing. He entered Wednesday at 0-for-7 in the season’s first two games with three strikeouts. (video link)
"I don’t think so," Cruz said. "They just threw the ball pretty good in the first two games. You don’t want to give them that much credit, but they did."
True enough. The Mariners managed just one run over their first two games. So it wasn’t just Cruz. They were 1-for-14 as a team with runners in scoring position. Cruz was hitless in four such chances.
"Hitting comes and goes," said right fielder Mitch Haniger, who was 1-for-8 over the first two games. "It’s just about grinding out at-bats, hitting the ball hard and swinging at good pitches."
Manager Scott Servais noted: "Our guys know where we’re at. We’ve been too aggressive in chasing balls out of the strike zone. That’s uncharacteristic of what we believe our identity is.
"Controlling the strike zone — we haven’t done a great job of it the last two nights."
Cruz dismisses his recent bout with the flu as having any effect on his early numbers. He instead shrugs it off as the distorted perception created through a small sample size.
The Mariners are going to hit, he contends, and he will be in the middle of it.
"I don’t feel anything from the flu at all," he said. "I really feel pretty good. If you saw my BP, you’d know."
GREEN LIGHT FOR FELIX
Whatever lingering doubt remained Tuesday regarding Felix Hernandez’s status for his slotted start Saturday start at Anaheim evaporated by Wednesday afternoon.
"Felix will be good to go," Servais confirmed. "Getting some treatment and getting with Rick (Griffin, the trainer), he got some exercise and he feels OK. He’s thumbs-up; he’s good to go."
Hernandez left Monday’s start after five innings after experiencing some discomfort in his groin, which surfaced in the fourth inning when he sprinted in a late break from the mound on a grounder to first base. (video link)
While Hernandez insisted all along that he would be ready for his next scheduled start, Servais adopted a wait-and-see attitude on Tuesday. No longer.
PLANS FOR RUIZ
Veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz is ticketed to start Thursday’s series finale against the Astros and can expect, Servais said, to play roughly once a series.
"I think it will be a good match-up (on Thursday)," Servais said. "I know he’s worked with (Ariel) Miranda some and has caught his side (sessions). They communicate pretty well together."
Mike Zunino started Wednesday for the third straight game.
Servais said there in no plan, at least for now, to pair Ruiz with Miranda or any other starting pitcher.
"It’s probably be more when Zee needs a break," Servais said. "I told Carlos that (he’ll play) probably once a series as we get going. He’ll get one of the games (this weekend) over in Anaheim."
The Mariners acquired Ruiz, 38, from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a Nov. 7 trade for left-handed pitcher Vidal Nuno. Ruiz spent 10 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia before an Aug. 25 trade last year sent him to the Dodgers.
ROSTER MOVE EXPECTED
Left-hander Dillon Overton is expected to rejoin the Mariners’ active roster prior to Thursday’s game after missing three games while on paternity leave.
Overton’s wife, Morgan, gave birthday Tuesday to the couple’s first child, a healthy boy.
The Mariners plan to clear space for Overton by optioning right-hander Chase De Jong to Triple-A Tacoma, and he will slide into the Rainiers’ rotation, perhaps as soon as Friday at Sacramento (Giants).
Three things to know going in Thursday’s pitching matchup between Ariel Miranda and Houston’s Joe Musgrove:
***Miranda won his only previous carer start against the Astros by limiting them to two runs and three hits over seven innings last Sept, 18 in a 7-3 victory at Safeco Field. Musgrove has never faced the Mariners.
***Carlos Correa had two of the Astros three hits against Miranda in the Sept. 18 game. One hit was a homer. George Springer had the other hit and it, too, was a homer.
***Danny Valencia is the only Mariner who has faced Musgrove — and he is 0-for-4 with a walk in five plate appearances.
The Mariners’ four full-season affiliates open their seasons on Thursday.
***Triple-A Tacoma will start right-hander Sam Gaviglio at Sacramento (Giants). Gaviglio, 26, was a combined 8-7 last year at Tacoma and Double-A Jackson with a 3.98 ERA in 28 games.
***Double-A Arkansas will start right-hander Andrew Moore against visiting Corpus Christi (Astros). Moore, 22, was a combined 12-4 last year with a 2.65 ERA in 28 starts at Jackson and Hi-A Bakersfield.
***Hi-A Modesto will start right-hander Nick Neidert at Lake Elsinore (Padres). Neidert, 20, was 7-3 last year with a 2.57 ERA in 19 starts at Clinton.
***Lo-A Clinton will start right-hander Brandon Miller at Kane County (Diamondbacks). Miller, 21, was 4-2 last year with a 2.72 ERA in 14 games at Short-A Everett,
The Mariners’ 2-1 loss to Houston on Tuesday was their 163rd one-run game since the start of the 2014 season. That matches the Chicago White Sox for the most among the 30 clubs. The Mariners are 76-87 in those games…Robinson Cano entered Wednesday with a .364 career average (52-for-143) over his 36 career games at Minute Maid Park. The only active major-league player with a higher average is Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto at .400 (62-for-155)…the start of Saturday’s game at Anaheim has been pushed back 10 minutes to 7:17 p.m. to accommodate a pre-game ceremony for Angels outfielder Mike Trout to receive his Most Valuable Player and Silver Slugger awards.
It was 40 years ago Thursday — April 6, 1977 — that the Mariners played their first game in franchise history. It didn’t go well. They lost 7-0 to the California Angels at the Kingdome.
Right-hander Diego Segui started for the Mariners but lasted just 3 2/3 innings before exiting after allowing six runs (four earned) on five hits and three walks. Angels lefty Frank Tanana pitched a complete-game shutout.
Second baseman Jose Baez had the first hit in franchise history with a one-out single to right field in the first inning.
A crowd of 57,762 attended the game. Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus nearly missed the first pitch while getting a drink for his old boss, Angels owner Gene Autry.
The Mariners and Astros conclude their their four-game series at 5:10 p.m. Pacific time Thursday at Minute Maid Park. Lefty Ariel Miranda (5-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 2016) will face Houston right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-4 and 4.06).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
The Mariners head to Anaheim after Thursday’s game for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels, which concludes their season-opening road trip.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners