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Nelson Cruz helps Mariners salvage series split with win over Rangers

By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – This time there were no bullpen implosions or late-inning drama. The Mariners did something that has been rare in the past few weeks – they beat a team by a comfortable margin.

Seattle got a solid if not lengthy start from left-hander Wade LeBlanc and provided plenty of run support, highlighted by Nelson Cruz’s two-run homer in the third inning, to roll to a comfortable 6-1 victory Thursday over the Rangers at Safeco Field.

More important, a bullpen that had been beat up the previous two days returned to form. James Pazos, Juan Nicasio and Chasen Bradford worked the final four innings without allowing a run, while giving an extra day of rest to Alex Colome and closer Edwin Diaz.

The victory improved the Mariners’ record to 34-22 and salvaged a split of the four-game series with the worst team in the American League West.

The Mariners open a three-game series with Tampa Bay Friday to close out the 10-game homestand.

Seattle jumped on Rangers starter Mike Minor immediately. Activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, Dee Gordon made his presence known quickly, tripling to left field to start the bottom of the first. He scored moments later on Jean Segura’s sacrifice fly to right.

But this wasn’t an ordinary and boring sac fly. The ball was hit to shallow right field into a place where a normal baseball player wouldn’t attempt to try and tag up and score. Heck, even a player who considers himself fast probably wouldn’t try it. But Gordon? He never hesitated. He sprinted home, and though Nomar Mazara’s throw from right field appeared to beat him, Gordon made a nifty headfirst slide and avoided the tag of catcher Robinson Chirinos for the first run of the game.

Gordon’s presence at the top of the lineup and his ability to create chaos on the bases was missed during his absence. His return is sure to help an offense that had scored four or more runs just three times in his nine-game absence.

The return to form of Cruz also will do wonders for an offense that is missing the suspended Robinson Cano. Cruz’s homer was his third in his past six games. He finally looks to be healthy at the plate. There’s no more nagging foot pain or aching elbow.

Perhaps it’s a function of how antiquated and misleading the win stat is because LeBlanc (1-0) has had much better statistical outings in prior starts. But he was good enough to pitch five innings, allowing just one run on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts to earn his first victory of the season.