Whatever he ends up accomplishing, Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz isn’t charging to the finish in what, statistically, is the best overall season of his 11-year career.
Cruz can barely move and, no matter the steady beat of his production, it’s killing him. The problem is a strained right quadriceps muscle that occurred Sept. 2 while he ran the bases in Houston.
“I like to run hard to the bases,” he said. “It’s taking my aggressiveness away. I can’t get infield hits or beat a double play. That’s a big part of me.
“It’s hard to be out there, especially when I’m a runner on first. You have to break up the double play. I don’t even get close to second base. It feels ridiculous to even go into a slide. That’s tough.”
Cruz missed six games following the injury and has been limited since his return to serving as the designated hitter. His output has remained strong: He was batting .283 with four homers in 14 games prior to Saturday.
“I don’t think it bothers him on his swing,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s more running than swinging the bat.”
Cruz agrees to a point.
“When you’re able to run harder,” he said, “your mind-set is different.”
Cruz entered Saturday’s game with a career-high 43 homers, which placed him in a tie with former Baltimore teammate Chris Davis for the major-league lead.
“We’re friends,” Cruz said. “We text. I’m happy for the success that he’s having. He’s my ex-teammate. I’m pulling for him. At the end, whatever it is, we’ll take it.”
No trash talking between friends?
Friday provided a perfect opportunity. Cruz got No. 43 in a loss to the Angels, while Davis lost what would have been No. 44 when Boston’s Mookie Betts reached over the wall for a catch at Fenway Park.
“Nothing like that,” Cruz said. “We texted all year long about ‘how you doing, how you feeling,’ stuff like that.”
Don’t misunderstand. Cruz won his first homer title last season when he hit what was then a career-best 40 while playing for the Orioles. And he’d like to make it two in a row.
“Of course,” he said, “but whatever it is, we’ll be happy (for each other).”
Lefty swingman Vidal Nuno will start Tuesday on shortened rest against Houston in order to provide James Paxton with an extra day of treatment on the troublesome nail of his middle finger.
“I’m hoping that Paxton, on an extra day of rest, can go (Wednesday against the Astros),” McClendon said. “We’ll see. If not, we’ll use the bullpen.”
Paxton lasted 1 1/3 innings Thursday at Kansas City before a bloody finger from a torn nail forced his departure. He experienced a similar problem Sept. 2 in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma at Salt Lake.
The initial fingernail injury delayed Paxton’s return to the rotation after spending three-plus months on the disabled list because of a strained tendon on the same finger.
Paxton said he didn’t believe the nail was torn as badly on this occasion, and McClendon said the training staff planned to apply a new nail in hopes of accelerating the recovery.
Time is already running short. Paxton would likely have to throw a bullpen workout — at least a limited one — on Monday in order to pitch Wednesday against Houston.
Asked Saturday about his recovery, Paxton looked at his discolored fingernail and said: “It’s pretty much the same as (Friday).”
Nuno started Friday’s 8-4 loss to the Angels but was pulled in the fifth inning, after just 67 pitches, because McClendon wanted him available Tuesday on three days of rest — one day fewer than normal.
“I’ll be ready whenever,” Nuno said. “I’ve been ready all year. I know the routine for how to get my arm back in shape. It’s not hurting. That’s the key.”
Will there be more words Sunday when third baseman Kyle Seager faces Angels right-hander Jered Weaver? It has only been 11 days since their memorable spat at Safeco Field.
“I think that’s over,” Seager said. “We had our little moment there, and you move on. That’s baseball. It gets emotional at times but, for me at least, that’s over.”
The Angels’ fans haven’t forgotten. Seager has been booed loudly each time he came to the plate in the series.
“I did hear that,” he said. “I think that’s the first time I’ve been booed. It was different. I guess that’s them standing behind their guy.”
The incident, which occurred Sept. 16 began when Weaver barked at Seager for what he believed to be an excessive delay in the fifth inning after entering the batter’s box.
Seager yelled back, and Weaver responded by hitting Seager with a pitch. That resulted in Weaver’s immediate ejection by umpire Brian O’Nora and a post-game jibe from Seager that Weaver “quit on his team.”
Weaver fired back the following day, prior to the Angels’ game at Minnesota, by saying: “I don’t even know who this kid is.”
Seager has faced Weaver on 35 occasions.
“It takes me a long time to get into the batter’s box,” Seager said. “I know that. Every once in a while (the pitcher) will get going, and I’m not ready yet. I understand the emotions getting involved there.”
And on Sunday?
Seager said, “I’m going to do the same exact thing I would do any other day.”
ON THE CLOCK
When Toronto clinched a postseason berth Saturday, the Mariners inherited the distinction of being the franchise with the longest drought.
Barring a miracle, the Mariners will enter next season at 14 years and counting since their 2001 appearance in the postseason, when they lost to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
The Mariners haven’t yet been mathematically eliminated this season but, when Houston won Saturday afternoon, they entered their game with a tragic number of two.
One hopeful note: The last two years saw clubs with the longest droughts break through. A year ago, Kansas City was at 29 years; this year, the Blue Jays halted a 21-year run.
It was 18 years ago Sunday — Sept. 27, 1997 — that the Mariners pulled Omar Olivares with a seven-run lead after four innings in the next-to-last game of the season in order to allow Randy Johnson to win his 20th game.
Johnson pitched two scoreless innings in a 9-3 victory over Oakland at the Kingdome. When he got the victory, he became the first 20-game winner in franchise history.
It marked the first of three times that Johnson won 20 or more games in his 22-year career. It was also the first of two relief victories.
Brad Miller had two hits and a walk in three plate appearances Friday in continuing his strong closing kick at the plate. Prior to Saturday, Miller was batting .344 in his past 20 games with a .386 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage. ... Robinson Cano entered Saturday with hits in his past eight games, which matched Oakland’s Danny Valencia for the longest current streak among American League players. ... The Angels, by winning Friday, clinched the season series at 10-7 with two games remaining. The Mariners are 30-21 against all other AL West opponents.
The Mariners conclude their road schedule at 12:35 p.m. Sunday when they play Los Angeles at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (9-4, 3.67 ERA) will face Angels right-hander Jered Weaver (7-12, 4.86) at 12:35 p.m. The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 770-AM due to a scheduling conflict with the Seattle Seahawks.