McClendon says Cruz will get plenty of outfield time

CruzNelsonSTThe idea that Nelson Cruz would be almost strictly a designated hitter for the Mariners is quickly changing and manager Lloyd McClendon said Saturday he’s always been comfortable with having the big slugger in the outfield.

Cruz has been penciled in as the starting right fielder in three of Seattle’s first five games, with Rickie Weeks starting twice there and Seth Smith getting the call on Saturday as he returned from a tight groin muscle that had sidelined him since Opening Day.

The 34-year-old Cruz has started 802 games in the outfield in his 10-year Major League career and 119 at designated hitter, so he’s certainly no novice with the glove.

“Really, right field is his position,” McClendon said. “He played right field quite a bit in Texas and DH’d in Baltimore because of their outfield situation. I don’t have any second thoughts or trepidations about putting him in the outfield at all. I just need to be smart about when I put him out there and make sure he stays healthy throughout the year. I’ll use the DH spot to do that.

“But to say he’s our full-time DH, I never said that and never committed to that,” said McClendon. “And he’s not. I like the idea of being able to rotate that DH spot to give guys a day off and when somebody is nicked up like Smith. Cruz will play his share of outfield.”

Even last year with the Orioles, Cruz played 70 games in the outfield and 89 at DH. That combo seemed to work just fine as he led the Majors with 40 home runs and Baltimore won the American League East at 96-66.

McClendon feels Cruz is best in right field, where he spent most of his eight seasons with the Rangers.

“He’s fine out there,” McClendon said. “I’ve always known he’s a good outfielder. Having said that, he’s not a Gold Glove outfielder. He’s not going to run in the gaps and make diving catches. But he catches the balls he’s supposed to catch and every now and then he’ll mess one up. He’s an adequate outfielder.”

Smith will play right field a lot against right-handed pitchers, but McClendon wanted to be careful with him Saturday as he returns from the sore groin. Justin Ruggiano will also see playing time in right field this year against lefties, but he’s also capable of playing center or left field.

— Jesus Sucre became the last Mariner to get into the lineup when he was penciled in at catcher for Saturday’s game. McClendon said he’d like to play starter Mike Zunino about 130-135 games this season, which means Sucre will start about once a week.

— McClendon said he’s not concerned about his team after Friday’s 12-0 defeat left the Mariners 1-3 out of the gate.

“My team is fine,” he said. “We didn’t look good last night. You usually don’t look good when you lose 12-nothing. They’re fine. They’ll bounce back. They’re resilient and they’ll be ready to play today.”

Here’s today’s full lineups:

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