ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington had to rely on Robbie Ross during the final week of the season to take some of the load off Neal Cotts, Jason Frasor, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan. He has started to pitch the way he did through the first two months of the season.
Ross pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings in his last six games entering Monday against the Rays. He's had more strikeouts in his last four games (seven) than he did in his previous 13 outings (six). The lefty didn't allow a run in the seventh in Sunday's win against the Angels, though he thought he'd get pulled after allowing a leadoff single to left-handed hitter Kole Calhoun.
With Frasor warming up in the bullpen, Washington left Ross in the game and he recorded three consecutive outs against right-handed hitters, two of which were strikeouts. Ross has surprisingly pitched well against right-handed hitters this season -- a .211 opponents' batting average -- but lefty hitters are 31-for-91 against him.
"Heck yeah, it was nice to get that opportunity," Ross said. Obviously, I've been struggling against lefties, but this year has been a little better going against righties. I was thankful for the opportunity to go out there and battle."
"I felt like the guys that were coming he matched up well against," Washington said. "Thank you Robbie, you made me look good."
Washington said Ross has started to hit his spots again over the last week. Ross had a 0.37 ERA on June 1, the lowest among Major League relievers at the time, but he's had a 4.74 ERA in his last 41 games since, allowing 20 earned runs in 38 innings during his rough stretch.
"It was tough being in that funk I was in and just trying to go out there and battle," Ross said. "It's easy to pitch here when you have a team behind you that can score runs and make plays. Sometimes you just put too much pressure on yourself, and I think that probably had to do with the case of why I wasn't doing as well."
Cruz batting sixth as Rangers' designated hitter
ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington said it was a "no-brainer." Nelson Cruz was in the lineup on Monday for the tiebreaker game with the Rays.
Cruz was batting sixth and being used at designated hitter, one day after being reinstated from his 50-game suspension for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program.
"It's the threat ... it's the presence," Washington said. "It's what he does for everybody in the lineup."
Cruz was playing right field and batting third before he was suspended. But Alex Rios has taken over both of those spots. Craig Gentry started in left field with left-hander David Price on the mound, giving the Rangers their best defensive outfield with Leonys Martin in center and Rios in right.
"The way those three are running down balls, I'm not going to change that," Washington said.
Cruz hasn't played in a Major League game since Aug. 4. He did play eight games in the instructional league, mainly against Minor League prospects. He was 9-for-27 with five doubles and a home run.
"I'm just going to come in and do my job," Cruz said. "Play hard and make sure I give it everything I have, so I'm hoping for the best. As soon as the game starts, I've been learning to block everything that's going on to the side. It's going to be a good test. Hopefully, I can do the same thing today."
Cruz was hitting .269 with 27 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .511 slugging percentage at the time of his suspension.
"I have been in the game long enough to know not to expect the Nellie we had before," Washington said. "But if they throw one in the wrong spot, I'm going to be jumping up and down."
Injured Rangers pitcher Lewis throws out first pitch
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers, hoping to feed off some karma of past playoff success, asked pitcher Colby Lewis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Monday's tiebreaker game against the Rays.
"It means a lot," Lewis said. "I have been here four years and hopefully they can get something worked out and I can be here for a fifth year. It shows what kind of organization this is and where I want to be. So to get this opportunity when I'm just taking up locker space, it means a lot."
Lewis has been out the entire season while recovering from flexor tendon surgery. He was close to returning before deciding to undergo right hip replacement surgery and fix a problem that has been bothering him for several years. He is a free agent after the season but could end up re-signing with the Rangers.
Lewis is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight career postseason starts and 32-29 with a 3.93 ERA in 80 regular-season starts since signing with the Rangers in 2010.
"It means a tremendous amount to have him," manager Ron Washington said. "We weren't sure Colby would be able to walk after his surgery. He came around with a cane and that lasted one day. The guys started riding him. He walked around with a bat for a couple of days and then threw that away. If there is anybody who has shown heart, fire, grit, passion, courage, it's Colby."
• Rios has played 1,454 Major League games without appearing in the postseason. That's the third most among active players and he said Monday's tiebreaker doesn't count.
Said Rios before Monday's game: "I think I have to wait until Wednesday to say I've played in some games in the playoffs. Tonight is going to feel like one of those games, but I have to wait until Wednesday.
• Darvish finished the season with 277 strikeouts, the most in the Major Leagues. The only other Rangers pitcher to lead the Majors in strikeouts was Nolan Ryan with 301 in 1989.
• Jeff Baker is still unable to play the field while dealing with a strained groin muscle. He is available to hit, but that is why he did not start at first base with a left-hander on the mound for the Rays. Said Washington: "He could probably get something hit right at him, but I can't take that chance."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.