When cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz went down with a freak injury in the second game of the season, things could have headed south in a hurry for the Mariners.
After all, Cruz, who led the American League in RBIs last season, hit two-run homers in each of the first two games of the season.
It would’ve been easy for morale to drop after Cruz twisted his right ankle on the bottom step of the dugout when putting away his helmet and gear after his second homer.
If there was ever a ‘Why me?’ moment for the Mariners, who went through more pitchers last season than the corner tavern, this could’ve been it.
Enter Mitch Haniger.
The second-year right fielder moved into Cruz’s spot in the batting order and has filled in admirably, helping the Mariners to a 7-4 start.
Haniger has batted .297 with three home runs and a team-leading 12 RBIs thus far. He hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh inning Friday night in a 7-4 victory against the Oakland Athletics.
Haniger said after Friday’s game that he’ll gladly relinquish the cleanup spot to Cruz, who was activated from the 10-day disabled list Saturday (reliever Casey Lawrence was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room on the roster).
“No one can replace Nelson,” Haniger told reporters. “But I think everyone is doing a great job of sticking together and grinding out at-bats and being tough outs.
“(Cruz is) going to hit his home runs and get his RBIs. We’re looking forward to getting him back.”
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