Taking Nelson Cruz was a chance. Not everyone wanted the former Rangers slugger after spending much of last year on a Biogenesis-related suspension.
But this year he's reminding the baseball world of another former Rangers slugger, Chris Davis, who had a career year in Baltimore last season and won the major league home run title.
Now, they play together and Cruz leads the league with 20 home runs.
The 33-year-old also leads the majors in RBIs with 52:
“He's the same Nelson Cruz I know,” Rangers manager Ron Washington, who managed him for most of his eight years in Texas, told the Baltimore Sun:
“He's a guy who has power, and he's showing that. We've seen it before, so I'm not surprised to be seeing it again.
“They got a guy who can drive in big runs. They got a guy who loves to play the game. And he gets to play in that small park. … He's a tremendous teammate, has all the qualities that you look for in a player.”
Cruz was obviously hurt in the offseason by his suspension. He was able to return after his 50-game suspension to play in a wild-card tiebreaker, where he went hitless in four at-bats.
Despite that, he had 27 home runs and 76 RBIs in 109 games last season at the age of 32. His career high was 33 homers in 2009 and Cruz is well on pace to beat that and has, at this point, a ridiculous on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.055.
But the questions about his suspension hurt his offseason value, which meant signing a one-year contract for $8.5 million. But, reportedly, there are plenty of incentives in the contract as well, meaning that his current hot streak could lead to a lot larger paycheck by the time the season is over.
He's currently nursing a bruised hand, after getting hit by a pitch on Sunday. But he isn't expected to need a trip to the DL.
He's been playing both the outfield and designated hitter and, over the weekend, bumped up from hitting fifth behind Adam Jones and Davis to hitting third right in front of the two.
Cruz is playing well enough that it led the Dallas Morning News to write a “what if” story on where the Rangers (who Baltimore is visiting this week) had kept Cruz and the suspension had not taken place. The Rangers traded for Prince Fielder in the offseason and Fielder is expected to miss the rest of the season with a back injury.
“I cannot be more thankful to the fans,” Cruz told the Morning News:
“The last time I played there, I had chills with the way they welcomed me. I still get chills thinking about it.
“All year long was a difficult year for me last year, but they were behind me. I’ll always remember that.”
Instead, Cruz has tried to remain humble and remember where he came from.
“I go back far, back to my country, when I was a kid and working at my uncle’s shop,” Cruz told the Baltimore Sun on Friday.
“If you want to stay humble and stay in the present, you have to realize you’re just another person and not to get a big head or anything.”
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