Three things: Nelson Cruz rounding into form for Mariners

May 23, 2016, 8:31 AM | Updated: 8:34 am

The Mariners enter another week in first place in the American League West Division after a 5-1 road trip pushed their record to 23-17. Here are three things to keep an eye on this week with the M’s:

1. Nelson Cruz has quietly rounded into form.

The Mariners’ best player in 2015, Cruz has taken a backseat this year to Robinson Cano’s huge power surge. Don’t take that to mean Cruz hasn’t been swinging well, though. The 35-year-old slugger has put together a big month of May, hitting .290 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 19 games. For the season, Seattle’s cleanup hitter has a .275 average and a rather robust .884 OPS to go with nine home runs and 29 RBIs. On pace for 34 homers, he’s right in the middle of the American League DH All-Star conversation once again.

Related: Leonys Martin providing Mariners with surprising power

2. How will the Mariners fare without Ketel Marte for at least two weeks?

Seattle had to put a position player on the disabled list for the first time all season on Sunday after shortstop Marte sprained his left thumb the day before. Despite being just 22 years old, Marte has been an impact player for the Mariners, hitting .276, scoring 21 runs and playing impressive defense at one of the most critical spots in the field. The Mariners will rely on Chris Taylor in Marte’s absence, which manager Scott Servais said shouldn’t last much longer than the required 15 days on the DL. But considering how many times Marte has sparked rallies and delivered clutch hits already this year, it’s easy to see how much Seattle will miss him in the interim.

3. Is this the new reality for Hisashi Iwakuma?

The Mariners were lucky to bring Iwakuma back in December after the Dodgers called off a lucrative three-year deal with the 35-year-old right-hander due to a failed physical, but it hasn’t been the same old Kuma this season. The good thing is that his health hasn’t been a concern, but his 4.39 ERA and 1.41 WHIP are far off his MLB career marks of 3.23 and 1.11, indicating he might be heading into the twilight of his career. Perhaps most worrisome is that he’s walking 2.8 batters per nine innings; in the three seasons prior, he had rates of 1.7, 1.1 and 1.5. Even though Iwakuma’s stats aren’t really what you want to see out of a No. 2 pitcher, he still has four quality starts in nine games to his credit, and his performance hasn’t hurt the Mariners much considering how well the rest of their starters and bullpen have pitched. Iwakuma will get a shot to lower his numbers Wednesday night at home against the A’s.

Team: mariners
Date Starting Pitcher
Wednesday, May 31 @ 6:40 pm Yankees' Clarke Schmidt RHP vs. Mariners' George Kirby RHP

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