Nelson Cruz in April: .380/.537/.785, nine home runs
Nelson Cruz in May: .292/.352/.615, seven home runs
Nelson Cruz in June: .387/.464/.742, nine home runs
Nelson Cruz in July (with a week to go in the month): .306/.386/.758, nine home runs (including eight in his last seven games)
He’s on a four-month hot streak.
Here’s the caveat: Cruz sits at .342/.440/.718 overall. Last year he hit .352/.428/.698 while in AAA. It’s not like he hasn’t done this before.
But here’s what he hasn’t done before:
2006 in AAA: a walk for every 8.8 at-bats
2007 in AAA: a walk for every 7.7 at-bats
2008 in AAA: a walk for every 5.9 at-bats
He’s figured out how to make pitchers throw him strikes. And Nelson Cruz does a lot of damage with strikes.
His proficiency in that area has been even more pronounced against lefthanders. Facing southpaws, the role that he would presumably be called on to fill if he were brought back up here, he’s hitting .392/.495/.649, with 17 walks (one for every 4.4 at-bats) and just nine strikeouts in 74 at-bats.
Plus, as always, he’s been a very good right fielder, with good range and jaw-dropping arm strength.
Cruz is not on the 40-man roster, and if that remains the case in October, the 28-year-old can leave as a six-year minor league free agent (and certainly will). Is it time to figure out if he’s Ryan Ludwick, to see if once and for all he’s figured out how to translate his AAA dominance into big league effectiveness?
The Rangers offense hits .287/.357/.465 against righthanders but just .258/.327/.428 against lefties.
If the right trade offer comes along, sure, trade Cruz. (The July 31 deadline doesn’t apply to him, incidentally, since he’s not on the 40-man roster. He can be traded afterwards without needing waivers — but of course the player(s) coming back will need to be acquired by Thursday if they are on the 40, or else they’ll have to be run through revocable August waivers first.) If the return is meaningful — that is, something that the Rangers believe can help this year or next year, or a prospect further away with huge, tangible upside — then moving Cruz makes sense, since a reluctance to bring him up now apparently equates to a willingness to let him walk this winter.
But if such an offer doesn’t come along? It’s time. Just like July 28, 2006 and July 27, 2007.
I’m just about ready for Kiko Calero in this bullpen (waiting to see when he’ll first pitch on consecutive days, breaking a string of pitching every other day for the RedHawks), and I’m just about ready to see Nelson Cruz up here, one way or another, one last time.
And, based on how Cruz has changed in 2008, I’m not sure that it won’t be “one last time” that extends into 2009, if not further.