Cruz still sidelined by quad injury, nearing return

Cruz still sidelined by quad injury, nearing return

SEATTLE -- Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz was sidelined for the fifth straight game Wednesday by a strained right quadriceps muscle, though manager Lloyd McClendon said again that Cruz is close to rejoining the lineup.

Franklin Gutierrez also was out for a fourth straight game by a strained right groin muscle, robbing the Mariners of their two top right-handed hitting outfielders just as they're in the midst of three consecutive games against left-handed Rangers starters.

"Obviously you'd like to have them in there, particularly in big-time situations," McClendon said. "But they're not in there. The fact is, the next man has to step up and get it done. They're in the Major Leagues, too. You go out and have at it."

Cruz remains second in the Majors in home runs with 39, now two behind Chris Davis of the Orioles going into Wednesday's play, while batting .312 with 82 RBIs. Gutierrez has been outstanding in a platoon role in left field since being called up two months ago, hitting .313 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs.

Cruz did some pregame agility and running drills both in the outfield and on the bases under the watchful eye of trainer Rick Griffin and appears on the verge of full health. Gutierrez also did lighter pregame work on the field, but is likely still a few days away from returning.

Worth noting

• Left-hander James Paxton threw in the outfield prior to Wednesday's game and will toss a bullpen session on Thursday to test the torn fingernail on the middle finger of his pitching hand. If all goes well, McClendon said Paxton will start Sunday against the Rockies in what would be his first start since going on the disabled list on May 29 with a strained tendon in that same finger.

The tentative plan is for Taijuan Walker to then start Monday against the Angels, but McClendon said he'll wait to see how Paxton progresses before determining if Vidal Nuno will come out of the rotation at that point. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Roenis Elias are lined up to pitch Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

• The Mariners have used 28 pitchers so far this season, tying the club record from 1999. Thirteen of the 28 were not with the Mariners last year and nine are rookies.

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