Should Nelson Cruz play in Game 163?

Ronald Martinez

It's a strange, strange situation. Nelson Cruz hasn't played in an official professional baseball game since in nearly two months, and yet he might well in the Rangers' 163rd and most important game of the whole season.

Some of the more particular particulars, via the Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson:

The prevailing thought is that Cruz will be in the lineup as the designated hitter even though he hasn’t played a major-league game since Aug. 4, the day before he was suspended for his part in the Biogenesis of America scandal.

--snip--

The Rangers went 29-21 without Cruz, who swatted 27 homers and drove in 76 runs before he started serving his suspension, but hit only 44 homers. He has been working out the past few weeks at the Rangers’ complex in Surprise, Ariz., and playing in advanced Instructional League games that feature some of the top prospects in the game.

He said that he has a good feel for fastballs but that the breaking pitches he was facing weren’t major-league quality. He went 9 for 27 with five doubles, one homer and nine RBIs in eight games. He started 1 for 10.

--snip--

One way Cruz could be out of the lineup is if Washington wants Geovany Soto, who went 2 for 3 with a homer and two RBIs on Sunday, to catch rookie left-hander Martin Perez and have A.J. Pierzynski serve as the designated hitter.

I've never understood why teams don't invest in hyper-sophisticated pitching machines that can throw breaking pitches (and everything else) that are major-league quality. The technology has existed for 15 years. I've seen it. I've faced a Randy Johnson slider thrown by a machine. But of course it's true that nobody in Surprise, Arizona, can throw a Randy Johnson slider or a David Price change-up. I'm a little skeptical about the fastballs, too. Sure, those kids can throw hard. But with the same sort of movement the big boys have? I don't know.

You can understand why Ron Washington would be tempted, though. In his career, Price has held left-handed hitters to a .197 batting average. Washington could really stack the lineup with right-handed hitters by shifting Craig Gentry to center field, and playing Cruz and Alex Rios in the corners, with Pierzynski DH'ing. But Leonys Martín's been so good in center field this season that it's probably not worth taking the defensive hit.

Other alternatives include left-handed-hitting David Murphy and right-handed-hitting Jeff Baker, who at 32 is enjoying his career year.

If I'm Ron Washington, all of this makes it difficult for me to sleep tonight. The good news is that as long as he keeps Murphy out of the lineup, he can't go too terribly wrong.

Update: It seems the thing will be done ...

For much more about the Rangers and Game 163, please visit SB Nation's Lone Star Ball.

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