DALLAS – As the Orioles open a three-game series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington on Tuesday, the club is optimistic that outfielder Nelson Cruz can return to the starting lineup after he was hit by a pitch Sunday in Houston.
Cruz has a bruise on the outside edge of his left hand. He was feeling much better 24 hours after getting hit, and the swelling in his hand went down enough that he was able to hold a bat. One club official said that Cruz was confident he would be able to play tonight.
If he is able to play, it would be his first game in Arlington – where he played eight years, developed into one of the best power hitters in the American League and was a popular player among fans – since his first game back from a 50-game suspension as part of the Biogenesis scandal in the Rangers' postseason play-in game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
In my feature on Cruz in Tuesday's newspaper, Cruz talked about how the reception he received from the Texas fans on that day still gives him chills. He received a standing ovation in his first at-bat.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who played with Cruz on the Rangers, knows what it's like to come back to Texas.
"The years we came up in that Texas organization, there were a lot of good players," Davis said. "Some veteran guys who had been in the big leagues, but really a lot of young guys who were kind of establishing themselves as everyday players in the big leagues. Some of us got lost in the shuffle, but Nelson had some really good years there, and he had a couple years in the postseason when it seemed like no one could get him out. I'm sure there's going to be some emotions."
Cruz did admit to me that, when he joined the Orioles, he wasn't sure how he'd be received coming off the Biogenesis scandal. He was comfortable in Texas and was somewhat nervous about going into a new clubhouse.
In the offseason, Cruz was seeking a multiyear deal, but he was unable to get one. He had to settle for the Orioles' one-year, $8 million offer, which was much less than the $14.1 million qualifying offer he declined from the Rangers.
But in Baltimore, Cruz has found comfort.
"I believe in God, and I believe everything happens for a reason, and that God's way was this," Cruz said. "I don't blame, I don't complain about it. It is what it is. The most important thing about it is that I'm happy here. That's the thing that matters. Of course, money is important, being able to support your family is important, but also to be happy where you are, it makes a difference. I think the difference is that I'm happy. If you go places where you're not comfortable and you're not happy, you can be a good player, but you're not having fun as well. You don't feel comfortable."
The way he has been playing on the field helps. Cruz had the reputation of being a streaky hitter, but he has been consistent this season.
"When you ... are doing good, you have a good feeling at the plate," Cruz said. "When you're struggling, it's hard to stay on the pitches. It's one of those things. When you're going good, you're able to make it look easy. It's not that easy. I just try to stay in the present, don't get caught up in what's going on."
** The other news on Monday's day off was the Orioles adding left-hander Johan Santana to the 40-man roster and placing him on the 15-day major league disabled list. The organization already had an available spot on the 40-man roster when right-hander Evan Meek was taken off.
As this point, it appears Santana is no more than three starts away from being an option for the major league team. He will pitch either Tuesday or Wednesday in extended spring training and then go on a minor league rehab assignment.
One of the most important factors in his rehab has been getting on a five-day schedule, so there's every reason to expect him to join the club as a starting pitcher. If that's the case, then the question is how he'd fit into the rotation.
That's a tough question to answer. There's no clear candidate to move to the bullpen, especially since the rotation appears to be coming around. Plus, Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn't been a fan of six-man rotations.
At the same time, he has worked to give certain starters extra days off. He tweaked the rotation this week to give Chris Tillman two extra days off. And Showalter is an expert at lining up his rotation to utilize matchup advantages.