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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2005

Cruz, in Toledo port for second time, uses change-up effectively

Nelson Cruz isn't one of Baseball America's top prospects.

He hasn't been for quite some time.

The major leagues are about as far away as Cruz's native homeland on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.

The 32-year-old journeyman right-hander has been a reliever. He has been a starter. He has been a closer.

He has pitched in the major leagues with four organizations. He has worn 11 uniforms in parts of 10-plus minor league seasons.

Nelson Cruz won the home opener for the Mud Hens last night, going five innings and giving up one run on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Nelson Cruz won the home opener for the Mud Hens last night, going five innings and giving up one run on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks.
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Cruz is as familiar with the Glass City as he is with Tony Packo's hot dogs.

He is in his third stint with the Mud Hens.

He has pitched for Toledo at both Fifth Third Field and at Skeldon Stadium, the only current Mud Hen pitcher who can make that claim.

Until yesterday, Cruz had never started a home opener for the Hens.

He didn't exactly have it on cruise control against Durham, but his change-up proved to be the difference in an 8-1 victory.

"Nelson threw some great change-ups today," pitching coach Jeff Jones said.

Cruz's off-speed pitch was so juicy, it appeared to be on steroids.

It darted inside and outside.

It jumped up and down.

With two outs in the third inning and the Mud Hens clinging to a one-run lead, Cruz struck out Jeff Deardorff on a nasty, high change-up.

Cruz threw 81 pitches over five innings, allowing five hits and one run. He struck out five, walked three and hit two in an up-and-down performance.

"We got what we wanted out of him today," manager Larry Parrish said. "He gave us five solid innings. That's all we were hoping for."

All Cruz was hoping for when he signed a minor-league contract with Detroit in January was an opportunity.

After all, he sat out all of last season after being one of Florida's final cuts in spring training. A few major league teams expressed an interest in signing Cruz after he refused an assignment to Triple-A, but he never was officially offered a big-league contract.

"Anaheim, Cleveland and Milwaukee called and wanted me right away after I got cut by the Marlins, but it didn't work out," Cruz said.

"I had been home in the

Dominican Republic for about a month-and-a-half and I had to kind of shut it down.

"I was just lifting weights. I wasn't prepared to pitch."

Originally signed as a non-drafted free-agent by Montreal in 1989, Cruz spent his first two seasons pitching in the Expos' organization.

Then he was given his walking papers.

He sat out the next three years before resurfacing in the minors in 1995.

He finally reached the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 1997. Just like that, though, he was gone again.

Major league stints with Detroit, Houston and Colorado followed from 1999-2003 - he also spent some time in the minors during that stretch - but then he was out of baseball again.

Cruz is back now.

He remains resilient.

He refuses to give up, although his best years are behind him.

"I love baseball," Cruz said. "I can't give it up. It keeps me going. Right now, I want to get to the point where I was two years ago. I'm happy with the way things are going right now.

"I'm going to keep working hard and not worry about the big leagues."

Right now, Cruz's only concern is hanging onto his spot in the Hens' rotation.



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