Nelson Cruz is already reaping rewards for a record-breaking season that has him poised to lead the American League in RBIs for the first time in his 13-year career.
Cruz, 37, was honored Friday in a pre-game ceremony as the Mariners’ player of the year as selected by the Seattle Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“To do what he’s doing is defying the odds,” manager Scott Servais said. “All the studies that say you decline at a certain age, there are outliers, and he’s one of the outliers.”
The Seattle Chapter also chose James Paxton as the Mariners’ pitcher of the year and recognized reliever Nick Vincent as the club’s unsung hero.
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Cruz previously won the player-of-the-year award in 2015, which marked his first season with the Mariners. He entered Friday’s game against Cleveland with a club-leading 35 homers and an American League-leading 112 RBIs.
“Scoring runs and driving in runs is what gets you wins,” he said. “And that’s my job. I’m supposed to drive in runs. That’s what I’m here for. That’s definitely something that I’m proud of.”
Cruz’s 112 RBIs are a career high. Entering Friday’s games, Baltimore second baseman Jonathan Scoop ranked second among AL players with 105.
Paxton, 28, was picked as the club’s top pitcher even through he missed 55 games – roughly 11 starting opportunities – because of a strained forearm muscle in May and a strained pectoral muscle in August.
Even so, Paxton has already set a career-high with 22 starts and is line to make two more. He is 12-5 with a 3.03 ERA after losing his two starts since returning earlier this month from the strained pec.
“When I’ve been out there it’s been pretty good of the most part,” he said. “Coming back from injury, I’ve had a couple of blips there, but once I’m at full strength, it’s been good.
“Obviously the big goal for me is to stay healthy and get those 33 or 34 starts in a season. That’s what I’m going to focusing on this offseason, finding way to stay healthy for the entire season.”
Paxton is a first-time recipient. Felix Hernandez won the award in seven of the previous nine years, while Hisashi Iwakuma won last season and in 2013.
Vincent, 31, is an apt choice as the unsung hero since the award typically goes to a player whose accomplishments garner little attention – which pretty much defines the life of a setup reliever.
“That’s what I’ve done the whole way through from Long Beach (State) to now,” he said. “I’m a setup guy. That’s been my thing. Go out there and get outs.”
Vincent has pitched in a club-leading 66 games and is 3-3 with a 2.87 ERA in a despite some recent struggles. He also has 27 “holds” in 29 opportunities and possessed a 1.87 ERA as recently as Sept. 3.
“For a long time he was probably the MVP of our team with where our starting pitching was,” Servais said. “When we got in close games, and had a chance to win them, we were winning them. And a lot of that had to do with Nick Vincent.”
Vincent will remain busy in the offseason. He and his wife, Jackie, are expecting their first child in late October.
“I don’t know what I’m in for,” he said. “I’m sure it’s going to be tiring, but it’s exciting.”
The Mariners also recognized their minor-league award winners prior to the game, including Triple-A Tacoma outfielder Ian Miller as recipient of the Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year award.
Double-A Arkansas Nick Neidert is the Jamie Moyer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award recipient.
Miller, 25, batted a combined .307 with a .355 on-base percentage in 124 games at Arkansas (83) and Tacoma (41). He also stole 43 bases in 48 attempts. Neidert, 20, was a combined 11-6 with a 3.45 ERA at high Class-A Modesto and Arkansas.
The awards, selected by club officials, were announced Sept. 11.
Other award winners:
▪ Infielder Chris Mariscal (Modesto/Arkansas) received the Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” award.
▪ Infielder Jordan Cowan (Modesto) received the Edgar Martinez PTPA (productive team plate appearance) award.
▪ Right-handed pitcher Ljay Newsome (low Class-A Clinton) received the “60 feet, 6 inch Club” award in recognition for ability to execute the organization’s “control the zone” philosophy.
▪ Outfielder Dimas Ojeda (Clinton) received the Dan Wilson Minor League Community Service Award in recognition of his participation in numerous community events.
▪ Manager Cesar Nicolas (Dominican Summer League) received the Dave Henderson Minor League Staff Member of the Year award for his work in helping to sign and develop players.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
Seattle Chapter of the BBWAA awards
From 1977 through 1983, the Seattle Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America selected a single player of the year. Beginning in 1984, it began awarding a player and a pitcher of the year. An Unsung Hero was added in 1993.
1977: Lee Stanton
1978: Leon Roberts
1979: Willie Horton
1980: Bruce Bochte
1981: Tom Paciorek
1982: Bill Caudill
1983: Pat Putnam
1984: Alvin Davis (player) and Mark Langston (pitcher)
1985: Phil Bradley (player) and Mike Moore (pitcher)
1986: Jim Presley (player) and Mark Langston (pitcher)
1987: Harold Reynolds (player) and Mark Langston (pitcher)
1988: Alvin Davis (player) and Mark Langston (pitcher)
1989: Alvin Davis (player) and Scott Bankhead (pitcher)
1990: Ken Griffey Jr. (player) and Erik Hanson (pitcher)
1991: Ken Griffey Jr. (player) and Bill Swift (pitcher)
1992: Edgar Martinez (player) and Dave Fleming (pitcher)
1993: Ken Griffey Jr. (player), Randy Johnson (pitcher) and Mike Blowers (unsung)
1994: No awards presented
1995: Edgar Martinez (player), Randy Johnson (pitcher) and Dan Wilson (unsung)
1996: Alex Rodriguez (player), Bob Wells (pitcher) and Rich Amaral (unsung)
1997: Ken Griffey Jr. (player), Randy Johnson (pitcher) and Rob Ducky (unsung)
1998: Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez (player), Jamie Moyer (pitcher) and Bill Swift (unsung)
1999: Ken Griffey Jr. (player), Jamie Moyer (pitcher) and David Bell (unsung).
2000: Alex Rodriguez (player), Kazuhiro Sasaki (pitcher), Joe Oliver and Jose Paniagua (unsung)
2001: Bret Boone and Ichiro Suzuki (player), Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer (pitcher), and Mark McLemore (unsung)
2002: John Olerud (player), Joel Piniero (pitcher) and Desi Relaford (unsung).
2003: Bret Boone (player), Jamie Moyer (pitcher) and Julio Mateo (unsung)
2004: Ichiro Suzuki (player), Ron Villone (pitcher) and Jolbert Cabrera (unsung)
2005: Richie Sexson (player), Eddie Guardado (pitcher) and Willie Bloomquist (unsung)
2006: Raul Ibanez (player), J.J. Putz (pitcher) and Rafael Soriano (unsung)
2007: Ichiro Suzuki (player), J.J. Putz (pitcher) and Sean Green (unsung)
2008: Raul Ibanez (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and Roy Corcoran (unsung)
2009: Ichiro Suzuki (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and Sean White (unsung)
2010: Ichiro Suzuki (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and Jason Vargas (unsung)
2011: Dustin Ackley (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and Brendan Ryan (unsung)
2012: Kyle Seager (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and John Jaso (unsung)
2013: Kyle Seager (player), Hisashi Iwakuma (pitcher) and Raul Ibanez (unsung)
2014: Robinson Cano (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and Chris Young (unsung)
2015: Nelson Cruz (player), Felix Hernandez (pitcher) and Brad Miller (unsung)
2016: Robinson Cano (player), Hisashi Iwakuma (pitcher) and Nelson Cruz (unsung)
2017: Nelson Cruz (player), James Paxton (pitcher) and Nick Vincent (unsung)