Mariners’ Cruz to play more games in outfield

OAKLAND, Calif. — It appears Nelson Cruz should no longer be viewed as the Seattle Mariners’ full-time designated hitter.

Cruz started Saturday in right field for the third time in five games. And while that stemmed, in part, to Seth Smith’s recovery from a sore groin, Cruz is now ticketed for regular outfield duty.

“I just need to be smart about when I put him out there and make sure he stays healthy throughout the year,” manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game against the Athletics at the Coliseum.

“So, I’ll use the DH spot to do that. But to say he’s our full-time DH, I never committed to that. And he’s not.”

Even so, this represents a modification in McClendon’s earlier plan. Shortly after the Mariners signed Cruz in December to a four-year deal, McClendon estimated Cruz would be limited to 30-35 games in the outfield.


“I think he’ll play more than 35 games in the outfield,” McClendon said. “I like the idea of being able to rotate that DH spot to give guys a day off or (to use it) when somebody is nicked up like Smith.

“Cruz will play his share of outfield.”

That suits Cruz just fine. Without making an issue of it, he steadfastly maintained his preference to play the outfield on a regular basis.

“DHing is boring,” he said, “but I understand my role. I’m here to play, and I’m here to contribute in whatever the role might be. I’m here to help.”

Coincidence or not: Cruz went 3-for-5 in Saturday’s victory over Oakland in 11 innings and hit his first homer of the season.

“It was important,” he said, “but we needed this win. The most important thing, I think, is the whole lineup contributed. We got a few hits and scored some runs. We got a W. That’s what we needed.”

Smith returned to the lineup Saturday for the first time since last Monday’s season opener and went 2-for-3 before getting replaced for a pinch-hitter. Smith is 5-for-6 in his two games and, again, coincidence or not, those are the Mariners’ two victories.

The next morning, Smith awoke with some soreness in his groin muscle, but he declared himself game-ready after taking part Friday in full pre-game drills and not experiencing any day-after problems.

Cruz seems more likely to play right field when the Mariners face a right-handed pitcher because that would permit Rickie Weeks, who has limited experience in left field, to serve as the DH.

“I’ve always known (Cruz) was a good outfielder,” McClendon said. “Now, having said that, he’s not a Gold Glove outfielder. He’s not going to run into the gaps and make diving catches.

“But he catches the balls that he’s supposed to catch. Every now and then, he’ll mess one up, but he’s an adequate outfielder.”

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