Cruz limited to bench role with sore hamstring

Cruz limited to bench role with sore hamstring

PHILADELPHIA -- Nelson Cruz has been red-hot of late at the plate, but the Mariners' designated hitter will be limited to pinch-hitting duties in the two-day Interleague series against the Phillies on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a sore hamstring.

The 36-year-old was hitting .385 with seven homers and 26 RBIs over his last 24 games heading into Tuesday, but he's been running cautiously on the bases and hasn't played a game in the outfield yet this year. Manager Scott Servais isn't looking to push that now, even with the designated-hitter role eliminated in the National League park.

"It's more safe for me to rest for two days than be out for two weeks," Cruz said prior to Tuesday's series opener. "It's getting better. Every day, it's getting better. I'm not 100 percent. And it's totally different to run the bases than to be in the outfield. I can't run after a fly ball at 70-80 percent. I have to go get it. So that could hurt the team and I could hurt myself."

Servais won't hesitate to use him in a pinch-hitting role, just as he did on Tuesday. Cruz entered in the sixth inning and delivered an RBI single up the middle in the Mariners' 10-9 win.

"He'll be available any time, any place," Servais said. "Unfortunately, he can only do it once. But I think this is the right decision. Certainly with all the injuries we've taken on, it's iffy, so why push it right now?"

Cruz started 70 games in right field for Seattle in 2015, and 35 times in '16. But the Mariners pushed to get more athletic in the corner outfield spots this season with Mitch Haniger and Jarrod Dyson opening the year in right and left, respectively.

Haniger is now on the disabled list with a strained oblique and Dyson moved to center when Leonys Martin was sent to the Minors, but the defense has remained strong with rookie replacements Guillermo Heredia in left and Ben Gamel in right.

The Mariners outfield is first in the Majors in Ultimate Zone Rating, per FanGraphs, and second to the Rays in Defensive Runs Saved.

Cruz acknowledges that he's become a full-time DH at this point in his career, though he hasn't completely given up his outfield dreams.

"It's part of my role now, and I understand we have guys that can play pretty well in the outfield. I can probably play a little better than them, but not that much," he said with a smile.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.