Cruz powers way to AL Player of Month honors

Seattle slugger hit .322 with 10 homers in April to win award for first time in career

Cruz powers way to AL Player of Month honors

ANAHEIM -- It didn't take Nelson Cruz long to make his presence felt on the Mariners. The club's new right fielder and designated hitter earned American League Player of the Month honors on Monday for his outstanding April.

It was the first Player of the Month award for Cruz in his 11-year career, and he's the first Seattle player to earn the honor since Ichiro Suzuki in August 2004.

"It's special," Cruz said. "It's always good to have a good start, especially with a new team and new fans."

Cruz on Player of the Month

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he "didn't know where we'd be without him" after Cruz's monster first month for a club that was 10-15 heading into its series opener with the Angels.

"It'd be hard-pressed to see anybody's numbers stack up against his for the first month," McClendon said. "It was pretty impressive."

Cruz hit .322 in 22 games in April and had the top slugging percentage in the AL at .724, the top OPS at 1.096 and the most extra-base hits with 14, while tying with Boston's Hanley Ramirez for the most home runs (10) and RBIs (22). In addition to his 10 homers, he also hit three doubles and a triple, while Ramirez had no other extra-base hits and batted .293 in 21 games.

Cruz led the Majors in home runs with 40 last year for the Orioles, then signed a four-year, $57 million deal to play with the Mariners this offseason. He hit six home runs in Seattle's first nine games of the season and earned AL Player of the Week honors that first week.

Cruz said the only time he can remember having such a productive month was last May, when he hit .339 with 13 homers, 27 RBIs and a .748 slugging percentage with the O's. Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion won AL Player of the Month honors that time, however, after hitting 16 homers and 33 RBIs.

Cruz, a three-time All-Star, joined Ken Griffey Jr. (July 1993) and Jay Buhner (May 1996) as the only Mariners to hit eight home runs in an eight-game stretch during a single season. His 10 home runs in the opening month are the third most in franchise history behind only Griffey, who hit 13 in 1997 and 11 in '98.

Cruz was the first Seattle player with at least 20 RBIs in the opening month of a season since Raul Ibanez recorded 20 in 2008 and Bret Boone had 21 in '03.

Cruz has continued his hot hitting into May. Entering Monday's opener with the Angels, he was hitting .343 with 17 runs, 13 home runs, 25 RBIs, a .387 on-base percentage, a .788 slugging percentage and a 1.175 OPS in 25 games.

"God blessed me with health, and that's the most important thing for me or any player," Cruz said of his torrid start. "And just to be able to stay with my routine, to be consistent. I think experience and age help you to be more consistent than in the past."

Greg Johns is a reporter for 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.