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Cruz back in lineup, looking to regain timing

Mariners DH missed past two games after getting hit by pitch
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz admits it's been a very stop-and-start season so far, due to a series of nagging injuries and illnesses for the Mariners' big designated hitter.

The 37-year-old strained a quadricep muscle and missed time in Spring Training, then was just back to feeling good when he slipped on the dugout steps at Safeco Field and sprained his ankle after homering for the second night in a row in Seattle's second game of the season.

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SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz admits it's been a very stop-and-start season so far, due to a series of nagging injuries and illnesses for the Mariners' big designated hitter.

The 37-year-old strained a quadricep muscle and missed time in Spring Training, then was just back to feeling good when he slipped on the dugout steps at Safeco Field and sprained his ankle after homering for the second night in a row in Seattle's second game of the season.

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After a two-week stint on the disabled list, he struggled at the plate after pushing to come back quickly and went 3-for-23 over the next six games before finally starting to look like himself again.

But after a nice three-week stretch, Cruz got sick on the last road trip in Toronto, then was hit in the foot by a pitch Tuesday against Texas. After sitting out two games, he was back in the lineup Friday against the Tigers, going 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in the Mariners' 5-4 win, but once again he'll be trying to regain his timing while not quite yet being physically at 100 percent.

Video: TEX@SEA: Cruz gets hit in the foot, exits in 4th

A year ago, Cruz hit .288 with 39 homers and led the American League with 119 RBIs, but he hit the quarter mark of this season batting .240 with seven homers and 18 RBIs.

"The first thing I have to worry about is my health. Then we'll get my swing right," the five-time AL All-Star said. "I felt pretty good, so it's a shame I have to go back [to starting over again]. But that's part of the game. Hopefully, this is it and from now on I can focus and just play the game."

With Cruz and the suspended Robinson Cano both out of the lineup, Seattle scored just three runs the past two games and some hitters seemed to be chasing pitches a little more, perhaps trying to do too much in their absence.

Manager Scott Servais knows he needs Cruz in the middle of that order.

"Before he got hit the other night, he'd scored from first on a double and was actually running as good as I'd seen him all year and starting to feel better," Servais said. "Then, whamo, he gets hit in the foot.

"It's been a number of little nagging things all season. Hopefully, knock on wood, that's behind him and nothing else happens and he can go forward and get on that hot streak. He's certainly capable of doing it. We've seen it in the past."

Second comes easy for Gordon

Dee Gordon made his move back to second base Friday and will now fill in permanently at that position during Cano's remaining 77 games of his 80-game suspension.

Servais has zero concerns about the two-time National League All-Star and one-time Gold Glove second baseman adjusting back to his former position.

"Dee looks good over there," Servais said. "It's pretty natural for him obviously. We'll move him around probably a little more than he did in Miami, just with our defensive shifting and alignments, but he's looking forward to it and we need him to step in there and play well. Get on base and do his thing and we'll be just fine."

Video: SEA@DET: Gordon lines a 2-out single to center

What remains to be seen is whether Gordon's quickness allows the Mariners to align him differently than Cano in some of those shifts.

"I don't know," Servais said. "I haven't seen him play second too much. We'll have to take a look at it. We'll stay with the alignments we have. It comes down from our analytical group and Manny [Acta] and I have the freedom to move guys around and we adjust it, based on who is pitching and whatnot. But we'll just have to eyeball it and see what it looks like here the first 5-6 games."

Solving the eighth-inning question

Servais planned to stay away from using Nick Vincent on Friday night after the right-hander pitched in five of the previous six days, which raises the question of how to handle the eighth-inning issue that has arisen.

Juan Nicasio was signed as a free agent to fill the set-up role, but he's allowed 17 hits and nine runs in five innings over his last seven outings dating back to May 2.

Vincent had thrown eight straight innings with only an unearned run and six hits in his previous eight outings until moving into the eighth-inning role and giving up three hits and two runs in taking the loss in Thursday's 3-2 setback.

"Nick has pitched a ton," Servais said. "We'll need other guys to step up. It's going to be a combination of guys. We need to get Nicasio going again. It's nice to see what [Ryan] Cook did. We need a consistent Daniel Altavilla. It's going to be a number of guys that need to step up to help us get the ball to Eddie [Diaz]."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz