Nelson Cruz was suffering from migraines when the Seattle Mariners were in Tampa Bay last weekend. He certainly has been causing headaches for opposing pitchers recently.
Cruz, the Mariners’ designated hitter, has eight home runs in his past 16 games, during which he has raised his average from .220 to .251. He hit three home runs in a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels this week and will set his sights on Boston Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello when the teams meet Friday night at Safeco Field.
“He’s certainly in a really good groove right now,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “So hopefully we can ride it for as long as we can.”
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Cruz, who missed most of spring training with a quadriceps strain, hit home runs in each of the first two games of the season. But when he returned to the dugout after that second homer, he sprained his right ankle on the bottom step as he was about to put his helmet and gear away and was placed on the 10-day disabled list.
He had seven homers in his first 37 games this season before more than doubling that since May 28.
“I think we’ll look up at the end of the year and we’ll get a typical Nelson Cruz year here. He was off to a slow start early, everybody was all, ‘Where is this going?’ But he’s righted the ship,” Servais said.
Cruz downplayed his part in leading the surprising Mariners to near the top of the American League West.
“The pitching is the one that got us here,” Cruz said. “I think we score enough to be able to win most of the games. We just find a way to scratch runs.”
Servais said the key to Cruz’s recent play has been his health. The 37-year-old also was hobbled after being hit by a pitch on the foot May 15.
“He is feeling healthier,” Servais said. “He’s such a big part of our lineup, driving guys in, getting the ball out of the ballpark. We saw it coming at the end of the last homestand. He started coming out of it, hitting those balls hard, hitting balls better.
“He’s getting the ball in the air. His timing is much better, he’s staying behind the ball and he isn’t chasing. He is swinging at strikes. That’s the key for any batter, not just Nelson.”
Porcello (8-3, 3.54 ERA) is 6-5 with a 3.62 ERA in 12 career starts against the Mariners. He has looked much more like the 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner (when he went 22-4) than the pitcher who lost a league-high 17 games last season.
“Two years ago is a long time ago now, it feels like, so it’s hard to compare,” Porcello told MLB.com. “I think we’re doing some things differently than we even did two years ago. So I haven’t really thought about what I was doing then. I know what I’m doing now, and I want to keep that going.”
The Mariners will send left-hander James Paxton (6-1, 3.02) to the mound. Paxton, who hasn’t lost since his first start of the season, is 2-0 with a 0.39 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox.