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Mariners counting on Nelson Cruz to clean up at DH

4/6/2015

SEATTLE -- From 1995 until 2004, Edgar Martinez was the Mariners' designated hitter each opening day. In the 11 openers since, Seattle has had 10 different DHs, ranging from Ken Griffey Jr. to the legendary Jack Cust, with Jose Vidro the only player to DH twice in season openers.

The 10th DH is Nelson Cruz, who led the majors with 40 home runs last season with Baltimore. He is batting cleanup for the Mariners on Monday, providing a much-needed right-handed power hitter between lefty-swinging All-Stars Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Seattle is counting on Cruz to make a crucial difference in an offense that has struggled to hit and score for years.

Can he? Or will Cruz be another victim of a ballpark that has swallowed up many right-handed hitters?

Cruz is optimistic -- why else would he have signed? -- and says that the batter’s eye in Seattle is one of the best in baseball. His career average here in 50 career starts, 194 at-bats and 204 plate appearances (about a third of a season) is .234 with a .309 OBP, .440 slugging and .749 OPS.

Cruz has hit nine home runs in Seattle, which would project to around 14 over the course of a full home schedule. That would not be a bad total given that Mariners DHs have hit just 74 home runs total in Seattle over the past nine seasons, an average of barely eight homers at home each year. Since Martinez retired after the 2004 season, the most home runs hit in Seattle by a DH in one season was 12 by Griffey in 2009.

At the very least, Cruz should get Cano some better pitches to hit.

“I've got to do my part, but it’s not about just one player," Cruz said. "Everyone has to do their part. What we have here should take us a long way.”

While Cruz hit 40 home runs last year, he averaged 27 in the previous five seasons. How big of an impact will Cruz have? Expecting Edgar Martinez-like production might be overly optimistic but he should definitely be more helpful than Jack Cust.