Designated hitter Nelson Cruz shook off the lingering pain in his left wrist Monday by returning to the lineup for the start of a critical three-game series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"It’s better than (Sunday)," he said. "I know that…We did an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging test), and we’re still waiting for the results. I mean, I’m going to play regardless of what it is. But we definitely want to know what’s going on."
Cruz planned to skip batting practice and scale back his other pre-game activities in an effort to avoid aggravating the injury. He went 2-for-6 in Monday’s victory with a pair of singles.
"I just want to stay loose," said Cruz, who leads the Mariners with 41 homers and 101 RBIs. "Not do too much. Taking batting practice at this point is not necessary."
Cruz said his wrist injury differs from a hand ailment he experienced in late August. The hand problem, he said, robbed him of his strength in swinging the bat. The wrist injury, in contrast, is simply of matter of withstanding pain.
"Even when I make contact," he said, "if I don’t square it up, it’s sore."
Not playing, though, is not an option. Not unless the pain gets a lot worse. The Mariners entered the season’s final week Monday still clinging to slim postseason hopes. They need Cruz in the middle of their lineup.
"It’s something he’s going to have to manage," manager Scott Servais said. "We’ll see if he can play through it. Hopefully, it doesn’t get any worse."
Cruz said he suffered the injury last Wednesday while swinging a weighted bat on deck prior to his third at-bat in a 2-1 victory over Toronto at Safeco Field.
"I was warming up," he said, "and I was (rotating the wrist) with a weight (on the bat). I swung, and I overextended (the wrist)."
Despite the injury, Cruz went 6-for-12 in the three weekend games at Minnesota with four homers, two doubles and eight RBIs.
While Cruz was in obvious pain Sunday after a swing-and-miss in the sixth inning against Twins lefty Hector Santiago, he remained in the game and hit a home run on the next pitch.
Even so, the Mariners didn’t let Cruz bat again. Seth Smith replaced him as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning.
Scott Hunter is the Mariners’ new director of amateur scouting after spending the last three years as the organization’s international cross-checker — a scout who "cross-checks" the work of other scouts.
"Scott has seen professional baseball through a myriad of different lenses, both domestically and abroad," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "His diverse experiences have produced a well-balanced set of skills as an evaluator, communicator, teacher, and decision maker."
Hunter, 40, replaces Tom McNamara, who was promoted recently to special assistant to the general manager after eight years as the organization’s director of amateur scouting.
Prior to joining the Mariners, Hunter spent 10 years as a coach and scout in the New York Mets’ organization.
The Mariners picked a poor timing to go anti-clutch.
After going 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position Monday, they now have just nine hits in their last 63 at-bats with RISP over the last seven games.
Even that number is skewed by last Friday’s 10-1 romp at Minnesota, when the Mariners were 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position. They were a combined 3-for-50 in the other six games.
Prior to Monday, the Mariners had a .260/.338/.438 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with runners in scoring position. The American League averages, prior to Monday, were .261/.338/.417.
COUNTING IT DOWN
Toronto and Baltimore, the top two clubs in the American League wild-card race, open a three-game series Tuesday in Toronto.
While the Mariners are chasing both clubs, they are closer to Baltimore in the standings and would likely benefit more by Toronto winning or sweeping the series.
Even Servais quipped: "Isn’t everyone in Seattle a Toronto fan?"
The Mariners also began the day one game behind Detroit, which opened a four-game home series against Cleveland.
Here’s are the remaining schedules, starting with Tuesday, for the primary five teams battling for the AL’s two wild-card berths:
Toronto (86-70): three vs. Baltimore; three at Boston.
Baltimore (85-71): three at Toronto; three at New York Yankees.
Mariners (83-73): two at Houston; four vs. Oakland.
Detroit (83-73): three vs. Cleveland; three at Atlanta.
Houston (82-75): two vs. Mariners; three at Los Angels Angels.
Triple-A Tacoma manager Pat Listach joined as the on-field staff as an extra coach for the three games at Minute Maid Park. Major League rules permit clubs to add one staff member in September.
Listach lives in the Houston area.
Tacoma hitting coach Scott Brosius served as the extra coach for the previous nine games. Tacoma pitching coach Lance Painter will get the duty this weekend for the four home games against Oakland.
The Mariners, after a season in which all seven of their affiliates reached postseason, have renamed and added to their list of minor-league awards.
The recipients of all six awards will be announced prior to Saturday’s game against Oakland at Safeco Field. The awards:
***Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year, which recognizes the organization’s top positional player.
***Jamie Moyer Minor League Pitcher of the Year, which recognizes the organization’s top pitcher.
***Edgar Martinez Productive Team Plate Appearance Award, which recognizes the hitter who best embodies the organization’s Control the Zone philosophy by "instilling a team approach at the plate instead of an individual approach."
***Alvin Davis Mr. Mariner Award, which recognizes a player who demonstrates "exemplary play and leadership skills both on and off the field."
***Dan Wilson Minor League Community Service Player of the Year, which recognizes a player "who actively contributes to community involvement" with an emphasis on being a good citizen and role model.
***Dave Henderson Minor League Staff member of the Year, which recognizes a staff member who exemplifies Henderson’s qualities in helping to establish "The Mariners Way."
It was 24 years ago Tuesday — Sept. 27, 1992 — that Randy Johnson tied an American League record for left-handed pitchers with 18 strikeouts. He did it in eight innings at the Texas in a match-up against Nolan Ryan.
Johnson settled for a no-decision. The Rangers won 3-2 in the ninth inning on a walk-off sacrifice fly by Rafael Palmeiro against Russ Swan. Ryan also got a no-decision.
The 18 strikeouts tied the record set by New York’s Ron Guidry, who struck out 18 in 1978 against California.
Johnson broke the record in 1997 by getting 19 strikeouts on two occasions: June 24 in a 4-1 loss to Oakland at the Kingdome; and Aug. 8 in a 5-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox at the Kingdome.
The Mariners and Astros continue their three-game series at 5:10 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (11-6 with a 3.61 ERA) will face Houston right-hander Mike Fiers (11-8, 4.40).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners