Nelson Cruz had only started games at designated hitter this season before playing right field against the Diamondbacks.
PHOENIX — Nelson Cruz was just waking up from his customary pregame power nap before Friday’s game when manager Scott Servais walked by and told him he’d be starting in right field Saturday.
“I thought I was dreaming,” Cruz joked later that night.
But it was very real Saturday afternoon when Servais penciled Cruz into the cleanup spot in the batting order and in right field.
“I was hoping for the best, hoping it would be a dream come true,” he said.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Will Conroy showcases coaching transformation by guiding UW men to win as acting head coach
- Superstar Breanna Stewart leaving Seattle in free agency would send the Storm back to mediocrity
- Mariners position overview: Jarred Kelenic wasn't meant to be the everyday center fielder, but it's a role he'll have to embrace
- Mariners mailbag: What could M's get for Taylor Trammell, Luis Torrens or Jake Fraley in a trade?
- Carr family rumble: Auburn Mountainview, Kentlake girls basketball teams face off with sisters as opposing coaches
Joking aside, Cruz went to Servais a few days before the series to lobby to play in the field. He didn’t want to be relegated to the bench for five straight games.
“I went into his office before we came here,” Cruz said. “It was good.”
With the Mariners playing the first five games of the road trip in National League parks without the designated hitter, Cruz would have been limited to pinch-hitting duties once a game. Throw in an off-day Monday and it would have been six days with Cruz not getting regular at-bats in a game.
“That’s pretty much a week off if you don’t give him a start,” Servais said. “It’s good to have his bat in the lineup.”
Servais has been hesitant to use Cruz in the field due to risk of injury. Last season, Cruz played in four games in the field during interleague games, twice he came away with leg injuries. The Mariners’ inconsistent offense can’t afford to lose Cruz to an injury for an extended period in the final month of the season. But Cruz felt he was healthy enough to do it.
“I’m feeling good,” Cruz said. “It’s going to be weird in that first inning because I haven’t been out there in a while, but I played out there in my career. So it shouldn’t be that much harder.”
But the risk is there. Cruz was dealing with back spasms last week and missed a game.
“He didn’t feel good for a couple of days, but nothing serious,” Servais said. “It’s just so different when you’re out in the field because you can’t really control your actions. You have to react to the ball vs. on the bases and stuff like that, it’s a little bit different. It’s where we’re at in the season. We’ve got interleague games. Our lineup is much different when he’s in it, they’ve got a good lefty on the mound (Robbie Ray) so we will give it a shot.”
James Paxton said he “felt great” after his 25-pitch bullpen Friday. He will throw another session Tuesday in San Diego and then will be re-inserted into the rotation for the series in Oakland.
“They haven’t told me when,” he said.
It will likely be Friday or Saturday with the upcoming outings of Felix Hernandez and Marco Gonzales also factoring into the decision.
Hernandez will start Tuesday in San Diego, while Gonzales will close out the two-game series Wednesday afternoon.