BALTIMORE — A year ago at this time, former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz was just a couple weeks away from making his return visit to Arlington where he’d spent the previous eight seasons with the Texas Rangers.
His return to Baltimore may not be accompanied by as many memories, but the current Seattle Mariners outfielder hit 40 home runs last year to help the Orioles win the American League East title for the first time since 1997. The 34-year-old has picked up in Seattle where he left off last year, leading the major leagues with 15 homers in 157 plate appearances after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners in early December.
What kind of reaction was he expecting from Orioles fans?
“Love, hopefully, until I do something to piss them off,” said Cruz, flashing a big smile while talking to reporters in the visitor dugout at Camden Yards. “But hopefully love.”
Cruz holds no ill will toward the Orioles, who were unwilling to offer the veteran free agent a fourth year for a player who will turn 38 midway through the 2018 season. Though still possessing plenty of power in ranking sixth in the majors with 44 homers, the Orioles have missed Cruz’s bat in the heart of the order as they have used a collection of corner outfielders with very little success through the first 35 games of the season.
Meanwhile, the Mariners haven’t taken advantage of Cruz’s .340 average, 15 homers, and 30 RBIs thus far, stumbling to a 17-20 record with few others producing in their lineup and their pitching not performing at its 2014 level.
Asked if he thinks he and Nick Markakis would be making a difference for the 16-19 Orioles, Cruz kept his former team’s struggles in perspective, recalling that last year’s club didn’t take off until the summer months.
“Last year around this time, we kind of struggled as a team and we found a way to get it done,” Cruz said. “It’s early, and they still have a pretty good team this year. [Matt] Wieters is probably the only piece they need right now besides [not having] Nick and myself. They still have a pretty good team.”
In his first game against the Rangers last year, Cruz hit a three-run homer to help the Orioles to an 8-3 win over Texas on June 3. Baltimore can only hope that the slugger cools off this week after punishing pitchers through the first six weeks of 2015.
Attending Manny Machado’s charity bowling event since both teams had Monday off, Cruz had an early start getting reacquainted with former teammates, but he planned to use his experience returning to Texas last year to help deal with any emotions he might feel being back in Charm City.
“It was weird like it’s going to be [here],” Cruz said. “Maybe the first at-bat is going to be different, but after that, it’s part of another game. You have to move on.”
NOTES: Starting pitcher Bud Norris (bronchitis) will make a rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday and is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on May 26. Manager Buck Showalter said the plan is for Norris to return to the Orioles rotation if “all things are equal when he’s ready to come back.” … Wieters (right elbow) will join the Orioles in Miami for their weekend series against the Marlins and is expected to finally begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie next Tuesday. The three-time All-Star catcher is eligible to be activated from the 60-day DL as early as June 4. … Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder) threw 25 times from 60 feet on Tuesday and will throw from 90 feet on Thursday. He is currently scheduled to throw living batting practice in Miami on Saturday. … Infielder Everth Cabrera (left foot) is continuing his rehab assignment with Norfolk and is eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL on Friday. He is out of minor-league options.