The last thing a hitter wants to deal with is a hand injury. It’s hard to swing a bat and difficult to be productive. So the Twins took the cautious route with Nelson Cruz and his strained left wrist.
That decision continues to pay off, as Cruz has crushed pitches since returning from the injured list on June 4.
Cruz homered and drove in three runs Thursday as the Twins beat Seattle 10-5 to win the rubber game of the three-game series at Target Field. Cruz got his team on the board in the third inning with a home run to left, and his seeing-eye single through left side of the infield drove in two runs during a six-run sixth inning that put the game away.
In eight games since coming off the injured list, Cruz has belted five home runs, all of those coming in his past seven games. He has a hit in six of those eight games and has a 1.355 on base-plus-slugging percentage since his return.
“I guess it’s contagious,” Cruz said. “Everyone is hitting, so the best thing to do is hit too. You don’t want to fall behind. It’s fun to be around a great lineup.”
At age 38, Cruz’s bat has the snap of someone still in his prime. After missing 19 games because of the injury, he appeared in only two rehabilitation games for Class A Fort Myers before being activated. He went 0-for-4 at Cleveland in his first game back June 4, but it’s been a Boomstick beatdown ever since.
“I think not too many guys can do things like that, and we knew that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He came into spring training, and after obviously he didn’t get a ton of at-bats early in camp. And he goes out there, and second or third or fourth at-bat, he looks like he’s locked in, having really good at-bats.
“Some of the things that he does in the box with the bat in his hands, he’s a little different than everyone else, and I think he has a very unique skill set and that’s why he’s one of the best hitters in the game.”
The game was scoreless in third when Cruz stepped in against Yusei Kukuchi and socked a 1-2 pitch into the seats in left field. It came on a slider from the lefthanded Kukuchi that dived over the inside part of the plate, a pitch that eats up many hitters. Cruz kept his hands tucked in close to his body and was able to launch it.
“Probably early in my career it was tough to get to those pitches,” Cruz said. “I guess lately with experience you learn to just react to those.”
Twins righthander Michael Pineda took the lead into the sixth behind a fastball that reached 96 miles per hour and an improving slider. He left with two on and two out, handing the ball to Ryne Harper. Two pitches later, Seattle tied the score on a single by Daniel Vogelbach.
But Kukuchi left after five innings, and the Twins went to work on Seattle’s bullpen, scoring six runs off three pitchers in the sixth to take a 7-1 lead. That included two-run singles by Cruz and Max Kepler. C.J. Cron belted a two-run homer during a three-run seventh as the Twins pushed the lead to 10-1.
Cruz maintains that he is benefiting from hitting in the middle of a talented lineup. His teammates argue that he’s the one that makes them talented.
“What’s impressed me most has been the way he goes about his game and how he’s in the clubhouse,” Kepler said. “He’s always providing us with good energy, very positive guy. Every day you see you get good energy from him.”