Sacramento Notebook: Cruz A Renaissance Man?

Juan Cruz began the season as a key member of the Oakland A's bullpen. After two months of struggles at the major league level, the A's demoted Cruz to AAA to see if he could straighten himself out as a starting pitcher. Cruz has made five starts since his demotion and the change in his performance has been remarkable.

Juan Cruz's time with the Oakland A's got off to a shaky start when he lost his arbitration hearing during the off-season. His season didn't get much better, as he allowed a walk-off hit to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in his first outing of the year. Cruz made 21 appearances for the A's and struggled in most of them. He allowed 28 runs (22 earned) in only 23.1 innings pitched. Although he struck out 27 over that span, his control was often shaky, which was demonstrated by his 19 walks.

When Cruz was sent down to AAA on June 17, the A's announced that Cruz would be moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Cruz had been a successful starter in the past. He had been a top minor league starting pitching prospect with the Chicago Cubs organization at the start of his career. He began his major league starting pitching career successfully when he went 3-1 with a 3.22 ERA in eight starts in 2001. Cruz struggled as a starter at the start of the 2002 season and was moved into the Chicago bullpen.

His struggles continued in 2003 and Cruz was eventually moved to Atlanta before the 2004 season. Cruz spent that entire season in the bullpen and had his most successful season of his major league career. He posted a 2.75 ERA in 72 innings in the middle of the Atlanta bullpen. The A's had hoped that Cruz would produce similar numbers in the A's bullpen this season, but it soon became clear that his heart wasn't in relief pitching.

Cruz has always insisted that he prefers starting pitching and the results as a starting pitcher for the River Cats demonstrates that preference. In five starts for Sacramento, Cruz has been absolutely dominating. He has allowed only six earned runs in 29 innings, which equates to a 1.86 ERA. He has racked up strike outs at a prodigious rate, whiffing 45 in those 29 innings. His control has improved, as well. He has walked only nine and has given up only one homerun.

Cruz's best start of the season came on Saturday when he struck out 13 batters in only seven innings of work. His effort was part of a recording-breaking game in which the Sacramento and Colorado Springs pitching staffs combined to whiff a mind-boggling 36 men.

Cruz's performance has likely put him back in the A's plans. He will likely get a chance to pitch with Oakland in September if the A's fall out of the race or he could step into the A's rotation if any of the A's starters get hurt. Cruz could also be a valuable trading chip for the A's, as Oakland searches for more offense on the trade route.

Other Notes:

-- The trade of Midland middle infielder Omar Quintanilla had an effect on the Sacramento roster. Infielder Adam Morrissey was sent back to AA to replace Quintanilla on the Rockhounds' roster. Morrissey was last with the Rockhounds in 2003. He has had a disappointing season, as he was sent off of the 40-man roster earlier this season and had lost out on playing time to the hot-hitting Mike Rouse and Andrew Beattie.

-- Infielder/outfielder Jermaine Clark returned from the disabled list this weekend. Clark had been on the DL with a fractured hand. The speedy utilityman has spent time in Oakland and Sacramento this season.

-- First baseman/outfielder Jack Cust hit his team-leading 16th homerun on Sunday. Cust is quietly having an Adam Dunn-like season for Sacramento. The big slugger has whiffed 108 times in only 92 games, but he has walked 77 times and has an on-base percentage over .400. He has been a top run producer for the River Cats with those 16 homers and 56 RBI. Cust has homered in two straight games.

-- Sacramento's bullpen was light's out in the team's 2-1, 13-inning victory over Colorado Springs on Saturday. Cruz went seven strong innings to begin the game, but the Sacramento offense was quiet and the game had to go extras. Victor Moreno, Jairo Garcia and Chris Mabeus threw a combined six shut-out innings, during which they struck out eight Colorado Springs hitters. They allowed only one hit between them. Garcia struck out four in two innings.

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