Slumping Cruz gets night off as trade deadline looms

LOS ANGELES – It wasn’t that long ago that Nelson Cruz seemed to have found his swing and was on a sustained productive stretch at the plate.

After homering at Texas on June 26, Cruz was on a 44-game run that included a .315 batting average, .395 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage, raising his season slash line to .252/.334/.394.

And then the bottom fell out. Over his last 19 games, Cruz has hit a paltry .157 with a .253 on-base percentage, .171 slugging percentage and one extra-base hit (a double). That has left his season numbers back at .231/.317/.346.

“His timing is a little off,” manager Davey Martinez said before tonight’s game against the Dodgers. “He’s a little late getting his foot down. I know he came out early today to hit, so it’s something he wanted to work on. But he’s been doing this for so many years, he knows himself really well. He knows his swing really well.”

Cruz may know his swing well, but the 42-year-old may be running out of time to fix it and ensure he maintains some trade value heading into next week’s league-wide deadline.

Signed at the start of spring training for a guaranteed $15 million, Cruz all along appeared to be the likeliest member of the roster to be dealt by Aug. 2 given what he could provide to a contender. But his recent struggles haven’t helped, and there’s now reason to wonder just how much other clubs might be willing to offer for his services over the season’s final two months.

Like everything else, Cruz has been through this before. He’s been traded four times during his long career, including last summer’s move from Minnesota to Tampa Bay. If this round of speculation is impacting him, he’s not conveying it to anyone.

“He’s good,” Martinez said. “We talked yesterday for a little bit, and we both said the same thing: Your first trade is usually the toughest. And then after that, you’re kind of like: Eh, you’re going to go to another team and try to help them win. That’s his mentality. He would love to stay here. If he stays here, great. If he happens to go somewhere else, then he knows he’s got a job to do, and that’s to help that club win.”

Stuck in an 0-for-14 slump coming out of the All-Star break, though, Cruz is getting tonight off. It’s a rare instance in which he hasn’t been in the lineup for anything other than health reasons.

Martinez said he wanted to give Cruz tonight off because of the quick turnaround to Wednesday’s 12:10 p.m. series finale. With left-hander Andrew Heaney scheduled to start for the Dodgers, Cruz will be in the lineup.

“He goes through stretches where his timing is really good, and he hits the ball hard, consistently. We’ve just got to try to get him back there as soon as possible,” Martinez said. “Hopefully it could be as early as tomorrow, or if he has to pinch-hit today it could be today. But he’s a professional hitter. He understands how to hit. He watches a lot of film on pitchers. He has a plan every time he goes up there to hit. Now it’s just a matter of him getting ready early and hitting strikes. When you’re late, you seem to chase a lot. And we’ve been noticing he’s chasing a lot.”

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