Nelson Cruz is again getting to play in front of fans in Seattle, even if it’s not a full ballpark because of COVID-19 restrictions in Washington state.
The Minnesota slugger went 3-for-4 in a 4-3 loss to the Mariners on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series. The teams meet again Tuesday night at T-Mobile Park.
Cruz was an All-Star in three of his four seasons with the Mariners from 2015-18 before signing as a free agent with the Twins prior to the 2019 campaign. He was on the 10-day injured list when the Twins made a trip to Seattle that season and didn’t get a chance to return last year when baseball changed its format in the pandemic-shortened season, with only West Division teams from each league playing against each other.
“This one is more special,” Cruz said before Monday’s game. “Last time I was here, I was injured, so it’s the first time I’ll get to play in front of the Mariners fans in this stadium, so it’s going to be fun and I’m going to try to enjoy it.”
Under Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto’s “step-back” rebuilding plan, only outfielder Mitch Haniger, third baseman Kyle Seager and left-hander Marco Gonzales, who started Monday, remain from Cruz’s last Mariners team.
Cruz, who will turn 41 on July 1, just keeps slugging. He’s batting .297 this season with 13 home runs and 31 RBIs in 57 games.
“It doesn’t happen very often, especially nowadays,” Haniger said of Cruz’s longevity. “The game is trying to go younger. They want to get younger guys. They’re always calling up young prospects, but there’s nothing like an established MLB veteran and what that guy can bring to a clubhouse, what he can bring to the younger players, what he can bring to the organization, especially the fans, too.
“I want to see a guy hitting hundreds of home runs, I want to see guys established playing in front of my hometown team and Nelson checks all those boxes.”
Cruz said he had lunch Monday with Mariners majority owner John Stanton to discuss the Boomstick23 Foundation, a charitable organization Cruz launched in 2016.
“The Mariners were a huge part of my foundation,” Cruz said. “They support me all the way. We did a lot of good stuff through the Mariners and my foundation here in Seattle, in New York and also the Dominican with all different costs. So, a lot of good memories.”
Twins left-hander J.A. Happ (3-2, 5.75 ERA), who was a teammate of Cruz’s with the Mariners in 2015, is scheduled to get the start Tuesday. Happ is 6-2 with a 4.56 ERA in nine career starts against Seattle.
The Mariners are set to start right-hander Chris Flexen (5-3, 4.68). Flexen faced the Twins once previously, on April 11 in the Twin Cities. He allowed six runs (five earned) in five innings of an 8-6 victory. Flexen walked two and struck out five.
Haniger, who leads the Mariners in several offensive categories, didn’t play in the series opener after fouling a ball off the inside of his left knee Sunday in Cleveland. Manager Scott Servais listed Haniger as day-to-day.
Newly acquired Jake Bauers filled in for Haniger in right field Monday and hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning.
–Field Level Media