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Nelson Cruz celebrates return to Minnesota with home run

The former Twin received a standing ovation before his first at-bat and was cheered loudly after his third-inning blast.
The Rays' Nelson Cruz doffs his helmet to cheering fans before batting in the first inning of Friday's game against the Minnesota Twins, his former team, in Minneapolis.
The Rays' Nelson Cruz doffs his helmet to cheering fans before batting in the first inning of Friday's game against the Minnesota Twins, his former team, in Minneapolis. [ JIM MONE | AP ]
Published Aug. 14, 2021

It was a Friday night reunion for Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who celebrated his return to Target Field by homering against his former team, the Minnesota Twins.

Cruz said the return was “emotional” because of his happy Twins’ memories, including a pair of postseason appearances. He found it “weird” to be wearing a different uniform but enjoyed seeing the players, coaches, clubhouse staff and fans.

Cruz, acquired on July 22, was loudly cheered after his third-inning solo shot, his fifth homer with the Rays. During his first at-bat, Twins’ fans gave him a standing ovation and Cruz tipped his batting helmet to the crowd.

“I know he has a lot of friends (with the Twins),” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the game. “I’m sure he’ll be received well by the crowd. Just his presence and the quality of the person (assures that).”

In nearly three full seasons with the Twins (258 games), Cruz had 76 homers, 191 RBIs, a .984 OPS and a .304 batting average. Clearly, he made an impact.

But he already has made a significant impact on the Rays.

“Everybody sees the big hits, the clutch home runs, but it’s just his presence in the clubhouse,” Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said. “He almost brings a calming effect to our clubhouse. The way he handles himself on and off the field is something everybody can look up to.

“The thing I notice about Nelson hitting is the confidence … how he holds himself in the box and never looks out of an at-bat. He always puts together good at-bats.”

Progress for Archer

Right-hander Chris Archer reported minimal hip soreness after a three-inning simulated game (42 pitches, then eight in the bullpen).

“The (velocity) and breaking balls seem to be in check with what he has been showing,” Cash said.

Archer is next scheduled to pitch Tuesday at Triple-A Durham, where Cash said “we’ll see how many pitches he can get under his belt.”

In other medical news:

• After a 1-2-3 inning (five pitches) with Durham, reliever Nick Anderson (on the injured list with a right elbow sprain) will pitch another inning with Durham on Sunday. The Rays are being cautious with Anderson’s buildup because he missed spring training.

• Relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Ryan Thompson (both out with shoulder injuries) were in good shape after live pitching work and looking for the next step.

• First baseman Ji-Man Choi wasn’t in the lineup for the second straight game as a precaution for his left hamstring injury. He was available off the bench.

• First baseman Yandy Diaz left Friday night’s game in the bottom of the sixth with a left thumb spring during a mini-collision around the bag.

Zunino power

Rays catcher Mike Zunino blasted his 24th home run — one off his career high — in the fourth. Zunino has homered in three straight games. The franchise record for most consecutive games with a homer is six (Carlos Pena in 2010).

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Miscellany

Kevin Kiermaier’s sixth-inning inside-the-park home run was the Rays’ first since May 28, 2019 (Avisail Garcia against the Blue Jays). According to StatCast, Kiermaier rounded the bases in 15.1 seconds, the fastest home-to-home time in MLB this season. … The Rays are 12-3 in their last 15 road games after enduring a 10-game road losing streak from June 15-July 3. … The Rays met the Twins for the first time since June 27, 2019 — a stretch of 777 consecutive days. That last meeting was memorable — a Rays’ 5-2 victory in an 18-inning marathon.

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