Mariners' offense shows potential for breakout season

Cruz, Cano anchor new 'culture' at plate

Mariners' offense shows potential for breakout season

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nelson Cruz is new to the Mariners, but the club is learning quickly about the big slugger. Turns out its new designated hitter takes requests, at least from teammate Felix Hernandez.

"Felix asked me for a homer," Cruz said after launching a two-run blast in Thursday's 9-4 victory over the Padres, his first game with the Mariners. "I was like, 'Normally I don't hit homers in the spring, but I will try today.'"

Cruz went 2-for-3 in his five innings of work, including his two-run shot down the left-field line in the third off Ian Kennedy. It was a nice opening tease of the team's potential in the middle of the order as Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager each went 2-for-3 as well, with Cano doubling and scoring twice.

"It was exciting to see the whole lineup and what we can do together," Cruz said. "It was nice to see everybody contribute today."

Having Cruz now to anchor the middle of the lineup figures to make a large difference for a club whose offense has struggled to match its pitching excellence in recent years. Manager Lloyd McClendon couldn't hide a smile when asked about Cruz's debut in the four-spot.

"Not bad. Not bad," McClendon said. "Makes me look real smart."

Seager enjoyed the view as well from his No. 5 spot in the order as he picked up an RBI single in the first after Cano hustled out an infield single to third and Cruz followed with a sharp base hit up the middle in his first at-bat as a Mariner.

Seager's RBI single

Cano came to Seattle with a reputation for not running hard to first at times, but he's shown the willingness to bust down the line when needed and is running even better this spring after showing up 12 pounds lighter than his first year with the club.

"That sets the tone," Seager said of the infield single."He's a guy who obviously isn't fighting for a job. You see his first AB of the game and he's busting it down the line, then scoring from second on a single. And we've got Cruz going first to third on a ground ball up the middle. There's a lot of different things. It's a different culture and it's very exciting."

McClendon said Cano looks extremely fit this spring and that's been in evidence already.

"Robbie is running extremely well," he said. "I'm really, really happy with that. He's moving well in the field and is in great shape."

Cano's infield single wasn't lost on Cruz either.

"He hustled pretty good down the line," said Cruz, who came to Seattle in part for the chance to play with his long-time friend from the Dominican. "Because of that play, we were able to score. That's what it's all about. The little things make it big."

And it doesn't hurt when the big man in the middle cranks one out of the yard as well. Cruz acknowledged he often doesn't hit well this early, but he's not worried about anything more than getting ready for the long haul at this point.

"Spring Training is about feeling," he said. "If you feel good, it doesn't matter what you do with at-bats. You want to get hits because your confidence goes up, but it's more important to get good feelings, get good pitches and feel like you're doing the right thing so when actual games where it matters come, you're ready for anything."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.