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Cruz (ankle) back from DL; Lawrence optioned

Gamel, Zunino, Healy also seeing progress in injury rehabs
Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz is back, and that's just the start.

The Mariners, as expected, activated the designated hitter from the 10-day disabled list prior to Saturday night's 10-8 win over Oakland. He missed nine games after suffering a sprained right ankle March 31 on a misstep on the dugout steps.

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SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz is back, and that's just the start.

The Mariners, as expected, activated the designated hitter from the 10-day disabled list prior to Saturday night's 10-8 win over Oakland. He missed nine games after suffering a sprained right ankle March 31 on a misstep on the dugout steps.

View Full Game Coverage

Cruz, 37, was 2-for-6 with two homers in the season's first two games prior to the injury. He served as the Mariners' cleanup hitter over the previous three years while batting .292 and averaging 42 homers and 106 RBIs.

"Yeah, I was going to play him or he was going to kill me," manager Scott Servais said, jokingly. "That's enough twisting the manager's arm, you're in there. No, we were anxious to get him back going again and get his season back under way."

Cruz had a single in five at-bats on Saturday, scored a run and struck out once.

The Mariners cleared roster space for Cruz by optioning right-handed reliever Casey Lawrence to Triple-A Tacoma. Lawrence, 30, allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings over two appearances.

The move means the Mariners are again operating with an eight-man bullpen.

"We'll send Casey down and make sure he can get stretched out a little bit," Servais said. "He might even slide into [Tacoma's] rotation when he gets down there. It just creates more options for us if something happens."

Cruz anticipated no problems despite a two-week layoff.

"I'll just trust the work that I've put into the cage and go from there," he said. "Once the game starts, I've played enough to figure it out."

Cruz's return marks the first of what the Mariners hope will be several reinforcements from a crowded disabled list that finally shows signs of thinning.

Outfielder Ben Gamel is currently on a rehab assignment at Tacoma in his recovery from a strained right oblique muscle suffered in Spring Training. A left-handed hitter, he is likely to remain with the Rainiers until Tuesday.

"Where we're at now is finding the right fit roster-wise," Servais said. "Tomorrow, Oakland will throw a left-hander [Sean Manaea] at us, and [Dallas] Keuchel goes [Monday] for Houston.

"We're trying to line it up so that he gets in a decent rhythm, comes back and plays. Coming back and sitting on the bench a few days doesn't make a lot of sense."

Plans call for catcher Mike Zunino, who has a strained left oblique, to begin a rehab assignment as soon as Monday. He said he hopes to return before the current homestand concludes Thursday.

Video: Must C Combo: Zunino connect for three homers

First baseman Ryon Healy is already taking light on-field drills in his recovery from a sprained right ankle. He is eligible to return Wednesday, but Servais indicated it could be a few days longer.

Video: SEA@MIN: Healy clears the bases with a double

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who suffered a strained back muscle in Spring Training, is expected to make one more rehab start at Tacoma before rejoining the rotation.

Cruz's return, though, tops the list. An All-Star in four of the five previous seasons, and the reigning DH Silver Slugger recipient, his impact should be felt throughout the lineup.

Most notably, right fielder Mitch Haniger will return to the No. 6 slot after serving as the cleanup hitter during Cruz's absence.

Haniger hit a three-run homer in Friday's 7-4 victory over Oakland and entered Saturday leading the club with three homers and 12 RBIs.

"The guys at the top of the lineup have gotten on base a ton," Servais said, "and he's taken advantage of it. He's had good at-bats. You slide him down and that makes us deeper."

Bob Dutton is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Seattle Mariners