Luis Cruz and Don Mattingly were using the same term, but referencing entirely different things.
In every sense of the word, the Dodgers infielder’s timing was right on Tuesday.
With his days on the parent club’s roster seemingly numbered as Hanley Ramirez works his way back from a hamstring injury, Cruz produced his first extra-base hit of the season when he needed it most. The timing of the 29-year-old’s two-run home run in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Angels couldn’t have been better, according to Mattingly.
The Dodgers manager was grateful it gave his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Cruz was happy the timing of his plant foot and his swing were properly coordinated, something that has been plaguing him during a season-long slump during which his batting average has ranged from .087 to .115.
After going without a plate appearance for eight consecutive games, Cruz surprisingly started Monday’s series opener with the Angels. In two games prior to Wednesday, he was 2 for 6 with three runs scored.
“All those games I wasn’t playing, I was working every day and finally I started feeling my timing right and seeing the ball better,” Cruz said. “I tell myself, ‘If I did what I did last year, I can do it again.’ I’m the same guy.”
What Cruz did last year was emerge from more than a decade in the minor leagues to become a fixture at third base, where he hit .295 after the all-star break.
He has hardly gotten out of the batter’s box this year.
Cruz needed 78 at-bats to collect his first extra-base hit. He has walked just three times in nearly two months. Monday and Tuesday’s performance combined raised his average 18 points to .114 entering Wednesday.
“His timing has been off, but also his strike zone has been too big,” Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire said. “He puts himself in a lot of holes swinging at bad pitches and when he corrects that, his timing will fall into place. He’s shown a lot of character getting in the cage every day trying to work through this stuff.”
When Ramirez comes off the disabled list, which could be as soon as Monday, the Dodgers will need to make a roster spot for the shortstop. Cruz was the obvious candidate before this week. The question is, has he done enough to change that or is it too little too late?