BALTIMORE - Nelson Cruz and the Orioles seemed like a good fit when the slugger signed with Baltimore for one year and $8 million.
Worth every penny so far.
Not many Orioles fans likely thought they'd have someone other than Chris Davis to embrace during an offensive onslaught. But that's what Cruz is doing, starting with his team debut March 31.
It began with a solo home run in the seventh inning, against Boston ace Jon Lester, that lifted Baltimore past the Red Sox 2-1 on Opening Day.
Fans took to Cruz immediately, stretching his last name into a collective cheer every chance they got. Next came T-shirts as promotional giveaways at Camden Yards that become a hot item. And there's hardly any talk around town of Cruz's 50-game suspension in 2013, when he played for Texas, for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.
It seems Baltimore has a new crush, and it's not Davis.
Cruz led the American League with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs going into Wednesday's game against Milwaukee. And he's keeping pace with Davis' output from a year ago.
In 2013, Davis was batting .341 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs at the season's 50-game mark. Davis also boasted a .716 slugging percentage and an eye-popping 1.152 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) at that time, which helped propel him to a club-record 53 home runs and a run at AL Most Valuable Player.
Cruz, who smacked his 17th homer Tuesday night, raised his batting average to .300, and held a .632 slugging percentage and a 1.001 OPS.
"The more games that I play the more comfortable I feel," Cruz said after the Orioles' 4-2 win Sunday over Cleveland. "It's been a blessing to be a part of this team. To be able to contribute and have the team win, it's been good."
Cruz is one of the top vote-getters among AL designated hitters, and for good reason with his gaudy statistics. It's exactly what Baltimore envisioned when Dan Duquette, executive vice president of baseball operations, acquired the 33-year-old Dominican.
The Orioles signed Cruz on Feb. 24, after he reportedly turned down a multi-year deal to stay with the Rangers. In eight seasons with Texas, Cruz averaged 20 home runs and 61 RBIs.
His career highs in homers came in 2009 (33), and RBIs in 2012 (90). He has been an All-Star twice, the second time coming last season when Cruz hit .266 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 109 games.
It didn't end well in Texas, however, with Cruz's name linked to the Biogenesis scandal. But Baltimore looked past Cruz's suspension and instead focused on its need for another bat in the lineup.
"None of us would like to have our whole lives judged by our worst decision," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said recently. "Nelson has been, always been a solid citizen. A great teammate. Made a bad decision."
Showalter managed Texas in 2006, when Cruz was getting his first taste of the big leagues, and told reporters when Baltimore signed its new player how proud he was of his progress and ability to make a team better.
Being suspended put a mark on his baseball resume, but Cruz was eager for the fresh start Baltimore gave him.
"It was a frustrating process, but I'm happy for the decision that I made," Cruz told reporters when he signed during spring training. "I'm really excited for the opportunity."
He's making the most of that opportunity, and he's on pace to give the Orioles their second straight slugging summer.
"It's a hard game and you can't dictate or take anything for granted," Cruz said Sunday. "You just focus day by day and do the things I'm able to control, go out there and play baseball."