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February 19, 2009

Hit Cruz Cleanup

   The Rangers may be worrying too much about putting pressure on Nelson Cruz.

  Despite the fact that they feel they need a solid right-handed bat hitting cleanup behind Josh Hamilton, they've been reluctant to give that spot to Cruz when they jot down potential batting orders. Andruw Jones, if he re-establishes himself this spring and shows that he's still a capable hitter, yes. But Cruz, no.

   That could be a mistake, because Cruz's body or work last year shows a player who may have turned the corner as a hitter, and not just a minor league slugger.

   Let's take a look at the numbers. Between Oklahoma City, Texas, the Arizona Instructional League (one game) and Cibao (Dominican Republic) this winter, Cruz played in exactly 162 games. He hit .343 with 52 homers, 33 doubles, 156 RBIs and 132 runs scored. He even stole 32 bases and drew 86 walks.

   I'm aware that Cruz has had big minor league seasons in the past, but when a player has posted those kinds of numbers and his team needs a right-handed bat for the cleanup spot to protect Hamilton, doesn't he at least merit a look-see there?

   "If they bat me cleanup, I won't feel any more pressure than I do anywhere else," said Cruz, who will start in right field for the Dominican team in the WBC this spring. "My approach won't be any different there than it is when I bat somewhere else in the lineup."

   How much Cruz's absence from camp while playing in the WBC -- especially if Jones is here, raking every day -- will hurt him is something to think about but the fact is, he's earned the right to a starting outfield spot on this team and I wouldn't shy away from hitting him cleanup from the get-go.

   -- Jim Reeves

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