Nelson Cruz led baseball with 40 home runs last season and parlayed that into a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners during the offseason. As he had crossed the 30-homer threshold just once in his career, some felt it was a fluke showing from Cruz.
Cruz hit home runs in five consecutive games between April 11-15 and entered Saturday’s game against the Astros with the major league lead in home runs at 11 (and RBI with 23). He stretched his lead to 13, as he hit a pair of round-trippers off of Astros starter Collin McHugh. The first came in the second inning, the first of three solo home runs the Mariners hit in the inning to jump out to a 3-0 lead. The second came in the sixth inning to reduce the Mariners’ deficit to 9-4.
The two-homer game is Cruz’s third multi-homer game of the season, and he has now hit four home runs in his last four games. Along with the 13 home runs and 25 RBI, Cruz is batting a ridiculous .340/.386/.809. Hanley Ramirez is the only other major leaguer with double digits in home runs at 10. Behind him, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Frazier, and Mark Teixeira are tied at eight apiece.
The first of his two dingers:
Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports that the Pirates have decided to convert outfielder JB Shuck into a two-way player. Recent comments relayed from the club’s director of player development, Larry Broadway, indicated that the outfielder would be coached in developing his pitching skills while working at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Per Broadway, the change would be enacted to help the veteran outfielder develop some much-needed versatility in the majors, where he’s only ever been limited to outfield and DH responsibilities. Well, except for the two games in which he pitched an inning of relief: once, against the Nationals in a blowout 11-4 loss in 2016, then in a similarly painful loss to the Diamondbacks this past April. During the latter outing, he finished the game with a 13-pitch ninth inning after allowing just one hit and one walk.
Add to that one minor-league outing in 2012, and the 31-year-old Shuck has pitched just three times over the course of his 12-season career in pro ball. While he has three years of experience on the mound from his college days, he’ll need quite a bit of preparation to handle the kind of workload expected from a two-way outfielder/reliever: 20+ innings pitched over a season and 20+ games played as a designated hitter or position player.
Still, his lack of experience doesn’t seem to faze Broadway, at least not this early in the process. There’s no word yet on how soon Shuck would be expected to debut his new skillset on a major-league level.