On Wednesday, it took just one crisp, violent swing from their new cleanup hitter and the impressively terrifying result to see why the Mariners are giddy about his presence in the middle of their lineup.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Yes, it was batting practice, where every pitch is grooved at a perfect speed and location. Yes, it was the warm, dry, hitter-friendly air of Arizona, where the ball carries and carries.
Still, it took just one crisp, violent swing from Nelson Cruz and the impressively terrifying result to see why the Mariners are giddy about his presence in the middle of their lineup, batting in the cleanup spot between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.
It was one of many balls he deposited over the fence Wednesday during his first full workout as a Seattle Mariner. But this particular ball exploded off his bat with an echoing thwack that could be heard over the nonstop music playing at the complex.
The white pill went screaming out to left center on a line-drive trajectory about 20 feet off the ground. It seemed certain to go over the fence, if not through it. The ball did indeed clear the first fence and then continued over the outfield fence of the nearby field.
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The prodigious blast drew oohs and ahhs from fans watching, and it left Cano and Seager smiling and shaking their heads.
It didn’t even look like Cruz had swung hard. He just has that much raw power.
Of course, many folks might automatically wonder: Would that spring-training display of power result in a home run in spacious Safeco Field with its fly-ball-killing and homer-crushing marine air?
It’s a fair question and one that’s been asked or prematurely answered often since Cruz signed a four-year, $57 million contract in the offseason. The big contract came after Cruz put up monster numbers in his one year with the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .271 with 32 doubles, an MLB-leading 40 homers, 108 RBI and an .859 OPS. He made the American League All-Star team and finished seventh in the MVP voting.
But the general belief is that those numbers — particularly the homers — will dip significantly from playing 81 games in Safeco instead of Camden Yards, a hitting paradise.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon shrugged off such notions about Safeco and Cruz.
“Well, he made it look real small last year,” McClendon said. “I’ve heard the critics say he won’t hit home runs in Safeco. He didn’t have any problem hitting them last year.”
To McClendon, the focus on Cruz’s home-run potential is shortsighted.
“This guy is a good hitter,” McClendon said. “He hits home runs, but he’s also a good hitter. And he has the ability to drive in runs. I suspect he’ll be just fine.”
Cruz has played enough games at Safeco not to be intimidated.
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” he said. “What I can do is what I can do. When the day comes, whatever happens it will happen. I try to hit line drives. If it goes out, it goes out. That’s my approach.”
In 52 career games at Safeco, Cruz is hitting .234 (43 for 184) with nine homers and a .749 OPS. In four games in Seattle last season, Cruz hit .167 (2 for 12), but he did hit a homer — off Felix Hernandez. And it was similar to that homer Wednesday and what Cruz says he usually hits — a low, screaming line drive that just cleared the wall in left field.
Cruz chuckled when asked about that homer because he hit it off his new teammate.
“He reminded me about it,” Cruz said.
Hernandez also brought up the line-drive home run over the Safeco wall in dead center that Cruz blasted off him in the eighth inning of a game in 2010 when he was in the midst of trying to notch his first no-hitter.
“I like to face the best, and he is one of the best,” Cruz said. “Every time I got ready to face him, it was a special day. I got pumped up and ready to go. And I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore.”
Instead of facing Hernandez, he gets to join him in a quest for a postseason berth and a World Series title. Cruz was a postseason participant last season with Baltimore and played in the playoffs on multiple occasions with the Rangers. He and the Rangers came an out away from winning the World Series, which still stings and pushes him.
“Once you are there, you want to be there every year,” he said.
It’s why he expects to play in the postseason every season.
“It’s everything,” he said. “That what I work for. All season, everything I do is with that mindset — go to the playoffs.”
It’s a reason he signed with the Mariners.
“I like to win,” he said. “I want to be on a team that can compete for the playoffs. That’s why I’m here.”