Nelson Cruz is back and so is the “Boomstick.”
Cruz returned to the Seattle Mariners’ lineup Thursday as the designated hitter after missing six games because of a strained right hamstring — and he marked the occasion by hitting his 40th homer of the season.
“Numbers are numbers,” he said, “and I like to focus on winning games and what I can do to help my team win games. If I do that, the numbers are going to come.
“At the end of the season, you’re going to have time to realize what you did.”
Don’t be fooled, though. This homer meant something. It was No. 40, which matched a career high, and Cruz got the ball back as a memento from the fans who caught it in right field.
“It was nice,” he said through a big smile. “I asked for the baseball. They asked for two baseballs and a picture. It was a good trade.”
Cruz showed little rust from his week-long absence. He had a single in his first at-bat, which ignited a two-run burst against Texas starter Derek Holland in the first inning.
“He’s got such an uncomplicated swing from point A to B,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s hard to get him out of his rhythm or timing. When you make a mistake, he usually takes advantage of it.”
Cruz suffered the hamstring injury Sept. 2 while running the bases at Houston. He still isn’t 100 percent; he eased his way from first to third in the first inning on Robinson Cano’s double.
“It feels good,” Cruz said, “but I don’t want to push it. After you get comfortable at one speed, you look for a test. When I had to run to first after I struck out (in the fifth inning), I ran kind of hard, and it was good.
“After that, I was like, ‘OK.’”
His homer capped a three-run seventh against Holland and closed the scoring in a 5-0 victory. Cruz also hit 40 homers last season at Baltimore before signing a four-year deal with the Mariners.
Cruz is just the fourth different Mariner to hit 40 homers in a season. Ken Griffey Jr. did it six times, while Alex Rodriguez and Jay Buhner each did it three times.
But Cruz is the first Mariner to do it since Rodriguez in 2000.
Everything has turned around for Mark Trumbo after a brutal start to his time with the Mariners. He pushed his career-best hitting streak to 12 games with a two-run double in the first inning.
“It’s something only time can really influence,” he said. “You try to fit in as quickly as possible, but now is a complete 180 from a matter of a couple of months ago.”
Trumbo had just 11 hits in his first 79 at-bats over 22 games (.139) after arriving in a June 3 trade from Arizona. Since then, he is batting .318 (61 for 192) with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 53 games.
That includes an 18 for 48 burst (.375) in his 12-game streak, which includes four homers and 11 RBIs. His full-season totals for 122 games: 21 homers, 59 RBIs and a .263/.307/.463 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage).
Second baseman Cano is the Mariners’ nominee for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, which is presented by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
The field of 30 candidates will be narrowed to one finalist for each of the six divisions in an online vote through Sept. 13 at www.mlbplayers.com.
Those six finalists will appear on Players Choice Award ballots distributed Sept. 16 to all players.
Balloting for the Players Choice Awards also determine an overall player of the year, along with an outstanding player, pitcher, rookie and comeback player in each league.
The Miller Award, named for the union’s first executive director, seeks to recognize the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community most inspire others to higher levels of achievement.”
Other nominees from American League West teams: outfielder George Springer (Houston), reliever Joe Smith (Los Angeles), catcher Stephen Vogt of Tumwater (Oakland) and catcher Robinson Chirinos (Texas).
Left-hander James Paxton remains on track to return Sunday to the rotation for the first time since exiting a May 28 start because of a strained tendon in his middle finger.
Paxton threw a complete bullpen workout prior to Thursday’s game.
“It went well,” McClendon said. “We’ll see how he feels (Friday) and we’ll have a decision.”
ONE OR FEWER
The combined one-hitter Wednesday by Vidal Nuno and relievers Danny Farquhar and Carson Smith marked the fourth time this season the Mariners limited an opponent to one or no hits.
Hisashi Iwakuma had a no-hitter on Aug. 12 vs. Baltimore; Taijuan Walker had a one-hitter on July 31 at Minnesota; and Mike Montgomery had a one-hitter on June 30 at San Diego.
Only six other clubs since 1970 have had four or more games of holding opponents to fewer than two hits: This year’s Indians have five; others with four: 1972 Cubs, 1978 Cardinals, 1979 Phillies, 1999 Reds and 2012 Giants.
Single-A Everett’s quick exit from the Northwest League playoffs this week put a fitting cap on a mostly disappointing season for the Mariners’ farm clubs in terms of on-field performance.
All four of the organization’s full-season affiliates finished last in their division while compiling a combined 228-332 record for a .407 winning percentage:
▪ Triple-A Tacoma: 68-76, last in the Pacific Coast League North Division.
▪ Double-A Jackson: 53-84, last in the Southern League North Division.
▪ Single-A Bakersfield: 61-79, last in the California League North Division.
▪ Single-A Clinton: 46-93, last in the Midwest League West Division.
The organization fared better in rookie ball and in the Dominican Republic, but only Everett reached the postseason.
▪ Everett was 42-34 and tied for first in the Northwest League North Division.
▪ Peoria was 31-25, second in the Arizona Rookie League West Division.
▪ Both of the organization’s clubs in the Dominican Summer League had winning records. One finished second in the North Division at 46-26, while the other was third in the South Division at 45-27.
It was 26 years ago Friday — Sept. 11, 1989 — when Mike Schooler set the franchise saves record by getting his 27th when he closed out a 2-1 victory over Boston at the Kingdome.
Bill Caudill held the previous record with 26 in 1982 and 1984. Schooler finished the season with 33 saves, which remained the record until Kazuhiro Sasaki had 37 in 2000.
The current record, set last season, is 48 by Fernando Rodney.
Cano had a double in the first inning and now needs just one more extra-base hit to become the fifth player in history to have 50 or more in each of his first 11 seasons. … Felix Hernandez is 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts this season against the Rangers. … Cruz has nine home runs in his past 16 games at Safeco Field. … The Mariners recorded their 12th shutout of the season. … Steven Baron on Wednesday became the first catcher in more than 48 years to be make his major-league debut in a one-hitter. The last to do it was Boston’s Russ Gibson on April 14, 1967 in a 3-0 victory over the Yankees in New York. … The Mariners won the season series against the Rangers for the first time since 2007. They hold a 10-6 lead with three games remaining, a Sept. 18-20 series in Texas.
The Mariners begin their final interleague series at 7:10 p.m. Friday when Colorado makes a three-game weekend visit to Safeco Field. Right-hander Iwakuma (7-3, 4.03 ERA) will face Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis (6-5, 4.95).
Mariners with 40 homers
56 Ken Griffey Jr. 1998
56 Ken Griffey Jr. 1997
49 Ken Griffey Jr. 1996
48 Ken Griffey Jr. 1999
45 Ken Griffey Jr. 1993
44 Jay Buhner 1996
42 Alex Rodriguez 1999
42 Alex Rodriguez 1998
41 Alex Rodriguez 2000
40 Nelson Cruz 2015
40 Jay Buhner 1997
40 Jay Buhner 1995
40 Ken Griffey Jr. 1994