New Twins DH Nelson Cruz sees time in the outfield
FORT MYERS Fla. -- Nelson Cruz trotted out to center field before Wednesday’s exhibition game started and began playing catch to warm up with Byron Buxton.
The sight of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound designated hitter in center drew a couple of double takes from those watching, including an umpire. But perhaps nobody was more surprised than first-base coach Tommy Watkins, who is responsible for working with the outfielders.
“The person that was sweating the most was Tommy Watkins, who needed a towel to get the perspiration off. He was dripping,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I’m pretty sure it had to do with the chance that he didn’t know about this and the players did it and that everyone would look to him as if he had something to do with it.”
After finishing up their round of catch, Cruz and Buxton switched spots. Buxton retreated to his customary center field, and Cruz headed over to right field, where he saw action for the first time this spring.
The Twins play interleague games in Philadelphia and New York six games into the regular season, and the Twins wanted to have Cruz see some playing time in the outfield to prepare for that. If Cruz can fill in capably in the outfield, it will make it easier for the Twins to get his bat in the lineup during those games.
“Everybody was shocked,” Cruz said with a laugh. “I don’t know why. It was fun.”
The 38-year-old, who spent the past four seasons with the Seattle Mariners, played in just four games in the outfield last season and five the season before. In 2016, he played in 48 games out there, but he has primarily been a designated hitter late in his career.
Cruz, who has been shagging balls this spring, handled the opportunities that headed his way well on Sunday, earning himself some praise from his manager.
“Nelson looked pretty good out there and tracked some balls down. In particular, the shallow fly ball with, I believe, C.J. (Cron) in kind of a shallow starting spot, and he broke after the ball in a way that a good outfielder with good experience, like he is, breaks after the ball,” Baldelli said. “That’s a ball that drops a lot of the time with positioning and in a situation where if you don’t break after that ball immediately and realize that there’s no one there for it, that ball can fall.”
Though Cruz primarily will serve as the team’s DH, he said he felt good in the outfield, and he’s hopeful he can get in a game at a National League park.
As for whether he’ll get into another spring training game in the outfield, Cruz was hopeful but said he wasn’t sure. His manager said he would leave it up to Cruz and would be comfortable with what the veteran said he needed.
“It’s something that I really enjoy,” Cruz said. “Definitely, you always miss it. I feel like even the days you don’t hit, you do something positive for the team, at least make some catches.”
His teammates liked to see it, too. Wednesday’s starter, Michael Pineda, was practically giggling when talking about Cruz playing the outfield.
“My right fielder: Oh, it’s awesome, man,” Pineda said. “I see today the guy running. He looks so good running. I love it.”