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Confidence soars for Cruz

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Nelson Cruz was there for the taking by any of the other 29 teams when the Texas Rangers placed the slugger on waivers at the end of spring training three years ago.

Luckily for the Rangers, nobody claimed the outfielder and they were able to give him another chance.

“I just see it as like a bad moment. … Sometimes you’ve got to be in tough situations to put your head up and really put your mind into what you need to do,” Cruz said. “It was motivation more than anything else. They put me on waivers. So I wanted to prove to everybody that it was wrong.”

Cruz is now one of the league’s most dynamic hitters, with a flare for timely blasts. His five extra-innings home runs last season matched a major league record, and three were game-ending shots for the AL champions. In the playoffs, he had 13 extra-base hits (six homers), a record for a single postseason.

The Rangers outfielder who has consecutive 20-homer seasons is Cruz, not AL MVP Josh Hamilton.

“Confidence has a lot to do with it,” manager Ron Washington said. “He knows he belongs. Maybe earlier he wasn’t so sure he belonged, but I think he knows he belongs now.”

After coming to Texas from Milwaukee with Carlos Lee in a trade deadline deal in July 2006, Cruz finished that season with the Rangers. He then started and ended 2007 with them as well, hitting .352 with 15 home runs in 44 games at Triple-A Oklahoma between his major league stints that season.

But at the end of spring training in 2008, the final roster spot came down to Cruz or Jason Botts, both young power hitters out of minor league options. Texas went with Botts, who then hit only .158 in 15 games with 18 strikeouts in 38 at-bats and was designated for assignment — and has never again played in the majors.

Cruz was sent outright to Oklahoma after clearing waivers, and responded with an MVP season in the Pacific Coast League. He hit .342 with 37 home runs, 99 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 103 games for the RedHawks before rejoining the Rangers the final six weeks of the season — when he hit .330 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 31 games.

“We were very blessed that Nellie cleared (waivers),” assistant general manager Thad Levine said. “It’s part of his amazing story that he is. … When we acquired him, his ability in the minor leagues was unquestionable. He was a bona fide five-tool player.”

Originally signed as a 17-year-old free agent from the Dominican Republic in 1998, Cruz spent three seasons in the New York Mets organization before getting traded to Oakland and later Milwaukee.

In 2009, Cruz had 20 stolen bases and his 33 homers were the most ever by a Rangers player in his first full season. He made the AL All-Star team, and advanced to the final round of the Home Run Derby, where he was runner-up to Prince Fielder.

Despite missing 51 games last season because of three separate stints on the disabled list because of hamstring issues, Cruz hit .318 with 22 homers, 78 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 108 games.

Cruz finally has translated to the major leagues all that success he had in the minors. There were several other standout seasons beside his Pacific Coast MVP year.

“That’s why they gave me the second chance, or third chance, because I was doing good,” Cruz said.

When the Rangers brought him back in 2008, they also let him do things his way. They had previously tried to tweak his batting style, with his open stance and big swing.

“He’s never looked back. This is a person who when we acquired him was probably supremely confident. Over time, unfortunately, I think we chiseled away his confidence,” Levine said. “He regained it, and now he’s not only one of the best players on our team, he’s one of the best players in the American League. But even more than that, he’s one of the best personalities in the game right now.”

Cruz, who seemingly always has a smile on his face, is expected to hit in the middle of the lineup this season between new cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre and Rangers career hits leader Michael Young.

In the team’s first intrasquad game this week, when Beltre and Young both were not playing, Cruz went 2 for 2. The next day in another game, he hit a two-run homer in the first inning.

Washington said the biggest difference for Cruz came two springs ago when the Rangers told him that he was their right fielder.

“He was able to relax knowing he was going to get his at-bats and knowing if he get his at-bats exactly what he could do,” Washington said. “And if you give him his at-bats, he’s going to do some damage.”

And make a lot of other teams realize the chance they missed three years ago.<

Notes: Ian Kinsler will lead off in the first spring training opener Sunday. Washington said his intention is for Kinsler to be in that role this season with Elvis Andrus hitting second and Hamilton third. When Adrian Beltre is healthy, he will bat fourth, and Michael Young will bat sixth behind Cruz. … Young (personal family matter) and David Murphy (birth of his third child, a son) were both back in camp Saturday after missing two days.

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Posted by on Feb 26 2011. Filed under Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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