HOUSTON -- When Nelson Cruz hopped out of the batter’s box and dropped to the ground, clutching his left hand in pain, Orioles manager Buck Showalter feared the worst.
The Orioles have been wildly inconsistent over the first two months of the season, but Cruz has been the one constant. The slugging outfielder has carried the club’s offense on his shoulders, so it was concerning when he left the game Sunday, shortly after being hit on his hand by a pitch from Astros right-hander Scott Feldman.
While their best hitter was at a local hospital getting X-rays, the Orioles responded Sunday with their finest offensive effort in nearly two weeks as the team’s sleeping bats awoke in a 9-4 victory over the Astros in front of an announced 17,022 at Minute Maid Park.
Even better news for the Orioles was that X-rays on Cruz’s hand were negative. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise on the bottom part of his hand, and is considered day-to-day.
“I was pretty concerned there,” Showalter said. “A lot of time, [when] you get those type of symptoms, you don't like the results. But I'm hoping, even though he didn't dodge a bullet, that we did.”
After Cruz left the game, third baseman Manny Machado hit his first career grand slam, a mammoth blast to left field that capped a six-run sixth inning against Feldman.
And David Lough, who has seen his playing time diminish as he has slumped at the plate, drove in three runs, matching his season total coming into Sunday.
The Orioles’ nine runs Sunday were three more than they scored in the first three games of the series combined, and they salvaged a split of their four-game series against the Astros.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (6-2) fell two outs short of giving the Orioles their fourth straight quality start, allowing one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings.
In the four-game series, Orioles starters allowed just five runs over 24 2/3 innings, pitching to a 1.82 ERA.
“It was, overall, a good day,” Machado said. “The pitching staff threw well. We’re finally getting some hits when we need to. Things are coming into place.”
Machado, 21, entered the day with just three extra-base hits in 109 at-bats, but he took a 2-2 delivery from Feldman well over the left-field fence to give the Orioles a 9-1 lead. Machado, who led the American League in doubles last year with 51, also doubled in the third inning and scored.
Machado, who also had two hits Saturday, said he hoped his first back-to-back multihit games of the year could help him emerge from an early season funk after missing all of spring training and the first month of the season while recovering from offseason left knee surgery.
“I hope so,” Machado said. “I really hope so. Today was a good day at the plate. Felt good, and my legs are finally under me. Feel like I can continue that.”
After Machado's third-inning double, Feldman threw an 87-mph pitch that sailed up and in to Cruz.
Cruz, who leads the major leagues with 20 homers and 52 RBIs, tried to back away from the pitch, but it hit him in the lower part of the left hand. He went down to the ground, holding his hand in obvious pain as Showalter and head trainer Richie Bancells inspected the injury.
Cruz remained in the game, taking first base and then stealing second on the back half of a double steal, but he was removed in the bottom part of the inning when he was unable to grip a bat.
“It's swollen, so hopefully just day by day stuff,” said Cruz, who had his left hand wrapped in a bandage. “Any time you get hit in the hand, you get concerned. … I have to until [Monday] to see how I feel.”
Both Cruz and Showalter were optimistic that Cruz would be able to return to the lineup following Monday’s day off. Cruz, who spent eight seasons playing for the Rangers, will return to Texas for the first time Tuesday.
“He's going to be sore,” Showalter said. “If I know Nelson, he's going to want to play on Tuesday. It's got nothing to do with who we're playing. He just likes to be there. But he seemed to be in pretty good spirits inside afterward. You never know when you're going to get those reports back. … If he continues to have some issues with it, then I guess there's three different levels of X-rays that you go off the symptoms, but so far, so good.”