Nelson Cruz hasn't looked good in right field, yet the majority of his starts have come there. Why doesn't he start more at DH?
-- James P., Manchester, N.J.
I keep hearing people say that Cruz is a lousy outfielder, but having watched him all spring and now in 11 of the first 15 regular-season games, I think that's a bad rap. The big man isn't a great outfielder, but he has a strong arm and certainly has handled the position adequately. Cruz made an outstanding catch at the wall on a long drive by Evan Gattis in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Astros.
Manager Lloyd McClendon clearly is more comfortable with Cruz in the outfield than Rickie Weeks at this point, which isn't surprising given that Cruz has played 811 games there in his big league career compared to three for Weeks. And when Seth Smith was nursing a sore groin early, Cruz played extensively in the outfield and did just fine. There's also this: When Cruz is playing in the field, he's hit .422 with eight homers and a 1.447 OPS. In his four games at designated hitter, he's 1-for-16 (.063) with a .125 OPS. Cruz says playing in the field keeps his mind active and helps him at the plate. And so far, that's been a very good combination, as he leads the Majors in home runs and RBIs.
Smith has been outstanding since getting called up last September. It's hard to be more impressive than 16 scoreless innings in your first 17 Major League appearances, with just five hits, six walks and 20 strikeouts. While McClendon seems comfortable Carson in late-inning situations, he won't be rushing him into the closer's role anytime soon. Rodney can be an adventure, but there aren't any perfect pitchers and it takes a special mental toughness to survive that job. Rodney has only four blown saves in 56 save opportunities since the start of 2014. That's tough to top.
What's the plan for Chris Taylor?
-- Sam B., Seattle
Taylor is fully recovered from the broken bone in his wrist and is playing shortstop for Triple-A Tacoma. He's no longer on the disabled list. Taylor is just like any other player in the Minor League system, doing his work and waiting for a chance to move up. He's hit .279 in his first 11 games for Tacoma and obviously is a quality shortstop, as seen during his stint in Seattle last year, but Brad Miller has played very well in the first 15 games for the Mariners, and there's no reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Having a solid shortstop at Tacoma certainly isn't a problem. Good teams have good players on their Triple-A clubs. That kind of depth can be invaluable should injuries occur.
Who are your picks for the Mariners' Top Four players in franchise history? Are you surprised Ichiro was left out?
-- Michael C., Vancouver, Wash.
I figured the Franchise Four voting being conducted by MLB.com for each team would be an interesting debate for the Mariners, given Seattle has five extremely strong candidates. The voting continues through May 8, so nothing has been finalized yet. Personally, I picked the same four as the fans so far -- Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez. But I would certainly understand putting Ichiro into that group. It's just hard for me to eliminate any of the other four. Like I said, it's a great debate topic, and the voting certainly could change before the results are announced at this year's All-Star Game. Vote now >
Several ballclubs celebrate Star Wars night. Any chance we might see Chewbacca at Safeco Field?
-- Chris C., Bremerton, Wash.
There is indeed a Star Wars night planned this year on June 19 when the Mariners play the Astros. The night will feature a costume contest among fans and a postgame Star Wars-themed fireworks display. You can see all the special promotions this year at mariners.com.
If Logan Morrison continues to struggle, could you see Jesus Montero being given a chance at first?
-- Johnny U., Emmaus, Pa.
That's always a possibility if any player struggles for an extended period of time. Montero is hitting well for Tacoma (.352 with three homers in his first 13 games), and he could also be an option at DH for Seattle, particularly given how much Cruz is playing in the outfield so far. But Morrison hit very well in the second half last year and he'll be given time to get going. Again, it's important to have good options in Triple-A, and Montero's early production is a positive, not a problem. Every team needs more than 25 players over the course of a season. More >