Cruz blasts 40th homer in return to lineup
Slugger back from quad injury, not running full speed
SEATTLE -- Before the Mariners' 5-0 win over the Rangers on Thursday afternoon, manager Lloyd McClendon said slugger Nelson Cruz, who had missed the previous six games with a right quadriceps injury, wasn't 100 percent.
Cruz wouldn't be able to run full speed and would have to temper his effort on the basepaths until he returned to full health.
On Thursday, he appeased his manager while helping the Mariners lock down a series split, trotting around the bases in the seventh inning after hitting his 40th home run of the season, a two-run shot to right estimated at 381 feet off Derek Holland. Cruz became just the fourth player in club history to accomplish the feat, joining Ken Griffey Jr. (six times), Alex Rodriguez (three times) and Jay Buhner (three times).
"Jogging around the bases is the best way not to run too hard, yeah," McClendon said.
Cruz also became just the seventh player in Major League history to hit 40 home runs in back-to-back seasons with two different teams, the first since Jim Thome, who hit 52 homers with Cleveland in 2002 and 47 with Philadelphia in 2003.
When Cruz hit his 40th home run on Sept. 23 last year with the Orioles, getting the ball back didn't require a trade. The ball deflected off a fan sitting just beyond the left-field wall at Yankee Stadium and returned to the field. The 35-year-old slugger asked for this year's No. 40 as a memento, giving the two fans who brought it to him two baseballs and a picture for the home run ball. Still, Cruz said he considers 40 -- one shy of Chris Davis' Major League lead -- just a number.
"We won and that's the good thing, and we have a lot of games to go so hopefully we can continue what we do," Cruz said. "Numbers are numbers, like I said before. I like to just focus on games and what I can do to help my team win games."
Cruz didn't look affected by his quad on the opposite-field blast, but there were signs throughout his 2-for-4 afternoon. He ran noticeably slower from first to third on a double by Robinson Cano in the first as well as after a strikeout in the fifth, when he ran to first on a dropped strike three. The important thing, Cruz said, is he came away feeling healthy.
Missing six games, Cruz said re-establishing his timing on breaking pitches was his main concern. Timing fastballs wasn't as much of an issue, he said. That much was apparent in the seventh inning.
"He's pretty good. He's got such an uncomplicated swing," McClendon said. "When you make a mistake, he usually takes advantage of it."
Fellow outfielder Franklin Gutierrez was out for the sixth straight game Thursday as he works his way back from a right groin injury. Gutierrez, who is hitting .313 with 11 home runs in 45 games this season, has taken batting practice and participated in on-field agility drills, but is not yet running well enough to return to the lineup, McClendon said.
• Left-hander James Paxton threw a bullpen session before Thursday's game, mixing in all of his pitches. He threw just 44 pitches in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma in Salt Lake City last Wednesday before exiting with a torn fingernail on his left middle finger.
"It went well," McClendon said after Thursday's game. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow and hopefully we'll have a decision."