From Mexico to Minors to LA, Cruz on unlikely rise

From Mexico to Minors to LA, Cruz on unlikely rise

From Mexico to Minors to LA, Cruz on unlikely rise
ATLANTA -- Luis Cruz gave the Dodgers another home run Sunday then a scare when he pulled up grounding out in the ninth inning.

"Just the beginning of a cramp," Cruz said, pointing to his left hamstring after the Dodgers' 5-0 win over the Braves. "It's fine. I'll be fine for Monday."

That allowed the Dodgers to breathe easier, their concern underscoring just how far Cruz's career has come since he was an emergency promotion in July.

He had the home run and single on Sunday, having been on the back end of the back-to-back-to-back home run barrage Saturday night, after reaching base five times Friday night. He went 6-for-11 in the series and hit .448 on the trip.

He began the 2012 season where he started 11 of his 12 professional seasons -- in the Minor Leagues -- but now he's an overnight sensation, pretty much the starting third baseman for the Dodgers down the stretch with Juan Uribe at the far end of the bench and Jerry Hairston out with a hip injury.

The 28-year-old son of a Mexican League legend said this year's success won't change his offseason routine -- he still plans on playing in the Mexican Winter League, as he has for more than a decade.

The Dodgers are his sixth professional franchise -- he began his career with the Boston Red Sox and was a rookie-ball teammate of Hanley Ramirez. He's had Major League cameos with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and last year split time between Texas' Triple-A franchise and the Diablos Rojos in Mexico before signing a Minor League deal with the Dodgers in November.

Management didn't exactly know what they had in Cruz, because he wasn't called up this year until July 3, only after earlier promotions of Alex Castellanos, Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Elian Herrera. But he's hitting .279 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 37 games. His ratio of RBIs to at-bats is third on the club to Ramirez and Matt Kemp, ahead of Andre Ethier.

He credits his Major League bat to an exaggerated open stance and leg kick that made his father, Luis Cruz Sr., famous in Mexico, where he played 16 seasons.

"San Diego made me get rid of it, Pittsburgh the same thing. They spread me out and made me use my hands like a slap guy," Cruz said. "But I had a bad year in '09 and decided I had to change something. I went home and my dad said, 'You're a big boy. You can hit balls to the gap. You should go with the leg kick.'"

Cruz's unconventional hitting style begins with an open stance. As the pitch approaches, he swings his front leg toward the plate and lifts it as a timing mechanism to begin the bat swing.

"My first time in the Major Leagues, when I was 24 and 25, I would just panic sometimes," he said. "Now I feel more experienced and just play the same game."