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Cruz proves doubters wrong with Mariners

Slugger continues to post impressive power numbers in Seattle
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz has made a statement.

After the 2014 season, Cruz was a free agent, and he signed with the Mariners, ignoring the cynics who questioned whether he could survive, much less thrive in Safeco Field. The 17-year-old ballpark has been known to play on the mind of others over the years, including third baseman Adrian Beltre, a teammate of Cruz in Texas who struggled from 2005-09 calling Safeco home.

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SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz has made a statement.

After the 2014 season, Cruz was a free agent, and he signed with the Mariners, ignoring the cynics who questioned whether he could survive, much less thrive in Safeco Field. The 17-year-old ballpark has been known to play on the mind of others over the years, including third baseman Adrian Beltre, a teammate of Cruz in Texas who struggled from 2005-09 calling Safeco home.

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Cruz hasn't been the least bit intimidated by the deep fences and the heavy air.

Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Cruz and other #ASGWorthy players

Cruz has answered the critics who stamped a question mark on his career statistics after he was suspended for 50 games for violation of MLB's Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program in the second half of 2013.

And Cruz has answered the cynics who belittled what was a career-high 40 home runs with the Orioles in 2014, quickly pointing to the hitter friendly environment of Camden Yards.

There are, however, no doubts about Cruz's capability anymore. He has provided an emphatic response with a career-best 44 home runs last season in his first year in Seattle, which marked the most homers hit in a full season at Safeco Field since it opened in July 1999.

Video: SEA@TEX: Cruz launches a two-run shot to left-center

And Cruz has shown no signs of slowing down in 2016. Just 23 days shy of his 36th birthday, he enjoyed the 26th multihomer game of his career in the Mariners' 7-1 victory against the Indians on Tuesday. That's 15 home runs for the season, and four in the past four games for Cruz.

There was a two-run shot with two out in the first inning off of Cody Anderson that gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead in their bid to end a four-game losing streak, and a solo shot that put the Mariners up 7-0 on a pitch Jeff Manship threw after coming in to face Cruz with two out in the fifth inning.

Cruz's production during the bulk of his tenure with the Rangers was tainted by his 2013 suspension. Then his power production during a 2014 season spent with the O's was met with a nod and smile, insinuating he had benefited from the short dimensions of Camden Yards.

Now, baseball people nod their head in approval at the way Cruz has ignored the critics and made a strong statement on his own behalf with the way he has played for the Mariners.

Video: SEA@TEX: Cruz slams his 12th home run of the season

Seattle manager Scott Servais knows Cruz well, having worked in the Rangers' front office while Cruz was in Texas, and now being reunited with him this spring in the Pacific Northwest.

"He is really motivated to hit," said Servais. "He probably understands his swing as good as anybody we have."

There, however, is more to it than that. There is a drive to succeed that Cruz possess. It won't allow him to coast.

"There's talk about guys slowing down in their mid-30s," said Servais. "They, however, also get a lot smarter. That's why his average is up. What he is doing says a lot about him, the kind of person he is and his work ethic."

Video: CLE@SEA: Servais on Miley's start and the 7-1 win

There can be all the doubts anyone wants to have about his efforts in Texas, but there's no way to discount the power Cruz has shown in Seattle. His 59 home runs since Opening Day last season is just one shy of the top mark in the Majors, which belongs to Nolan Arenado of the Rockies.

"There was never a doubt in my mind about my ability to play," Cruz said.

That's why Cruz didn't hesitate to sign the four-year, $57 million deal the Mariners offered after the 2014 season. Oh, the Orioles wanted him to stay in Baltimore, and the Giants tried to lure him to San Francisco.

Video: SEA@SD: Cruz rockets a solo shot at 111 mph

Cruz's mind, however, wouldn't let go of the idea of being with the Mariners.

"I thought it was the right team," Cruz said. "With Felix [Hernandez] and Robbie [Cano] alone, the team makes a big statement."

If that's the case, then the addition of Cruz provided the exclamation point to the statement. And it's been heard not only by the opposition, but by the Mariners' leadership as well.

"He is in a good spot," said Servais.

Cruz agrees wholeheartedly. He is in Seattle, the elder statesman on a team gone young, and he's soaking up every moment.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy.

 

Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz