A large media throng besieged the visiting clubhouse at Angel Stadium on Monday afternoon, and Texas Rangers players were ready to share their thoughts on suspended teammate Nelson Cruz.
A.J. Pierzynski, who lockers next to Cruz in Arlington, went first. Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy and Joe Nathan also got their chances.
Not a single player condoned what Cruz admitted to them that he had done — taking performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis of America clinic — and each one said he had to pay with a 50-game ban.
But a team that in recent years has never not embraced one of its own after a misstep had both arms around Cruz, and players said that they will gladly welcome him back to the team in two months should the Rangers qualify for the playoffs.
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“We don’t agree with what he did, but we’ve all made mistakes,” said Murphy, who was the first to speak in support of Cruz after he addressed the team before the clubhouse opened to the media. “We’re going to stand behind him and hope that we play well for the rest of the regular season and get him back for the postseason. I can only imagine what he’s going through right now. It’s got to be a difficult time for him and his family, but we love him and we’re going to continue to support him.”
Cruz, 33, was one of 12 players who did not appeal a 50-game punishment for violating the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and began serving the penalty immediately. Alex Rodriguez was banned through the end of next season, but he appealed the suspension and was the starting third baseman Monday for the New York Yankees.
Cruz, the Rangers’ leader in home runs (27) and RBIs (76), said in a statement that he used PEDs after the 2011 season to help recover the strength he lost while suffering from the gastrointestinal infection helicobacter pylori.
He turned to the Biogenesis clinic in Miami, where he was hospitalized with his illness and remained for the rest of the off-season to train. Cruz never failed a random test, but a months-long investigation by Major League Baseball uncovered enough evidence to merit a suspension under the just-cause provision in the drug program.
The investigation turned in favor of MLB when clinic founder Tony Bosch agreed to cooperate. Bosch kept detailed records, which were first exposed Jan. 31 in a report by the Miami New Times. He referred to Cruz as “Mohamad.”
“I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error,” Cruz’s statement read. “I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”
Later, in a telephone interview, Cruz said that he is committed to maintaining a workout program while he is banned to stay in shape for a possible shot at the postseason roster. He can use the facilities at Rangers Ballpark as long as he isn’t in uniform and is gone before gates open, and he can also go to extended spring training in Surprise, Ariz.
Cruz also said that he wants to remain with the Rangers beyond this season. He will test free agency after the season for the first time in his career, and his value will be higher with his suspension out of the way.
While he doesn’t want to go anywhere, he understands that he could be headed elsewhere.
“As a player, you want to be with one team, and the Rangers are the team I want to be with and nobody else,” said Cruz, who is forfeiting about $3.4 million in salary during his suspension. “I understand it’s a business, but I’d love to be back. We haven’t talked about anything yet. We’ll see where we are when free agency comes up.”
General manager Jon Daniels said that any decision regarding Cruz’s future with the club will depend on how willing his teammates are to keep him around. The Rangers, said Daniels and CEO Nolan Ryan, were disappointed that Cruz had used PEDs.
The club learned Sunday night that Cruz would not appeal his suspension, a decision that Daniels said did not catch them by surprise. He had spoken to Cruz in the weeks leading to MLB’s decision to pump information ahead to guide the team during the July trading period, but he said he did not try to influence Cruz to appeal any suspension.
Cruz met with MLB investigators during the Rangers’ series on June 25-27 at Yankee Stadium, according to a baseball source, and his representatives attempted to negotiate a shorter suspension.
MLB didn’t yield, though, and Cruz won’t play for the Rangers the rest of the regular season. His teammates, though, are ready to welcome him back should they erase what was a 2 1/2-game deficit to Oakland in the American League West or take one of the two wild-card spots into the playoffs.
The Rangers believe they can move on from losing Cruz and into the postseason for a fourth straight season.
“It doesn’t change what we need to do, and that’s go out and win games,” Nathan said. “We’re going to miss him. We understand that, but at the same time we still have a job to do. We’re playing good baseball right now.”
Said Andrus: “We do want him. He learned his lesson. You learn from your mistake and move on. We know his personality and we know how he is. We’ve got his back, and we love him and we’re going to support him as a family. That’s what we do.”
But that doesn’t mean the Rangers were OK with what he admitted to doing — using PEDs — which led to a 50-game suspension Monday.
“It sucks for the team because Nellie’s a good player,” Pierzynski said. “But he made the decision. He knows the consequences. We’re all grown men here. We all make decisions, and at the end of the day you have to pay for your decisions, good or bad.”