ARLINGTON -- Pitcher Alexi Ogando was asked if the Rangers would be in first place if he had been able to stay healthy all year.
"I don't know," Ogando said. "I tried but … I think so."
Ogando wasn't healthy all year. He was on the disabled list three times for biceps and shoulder inflammation and was able to make just 17 starts. Derek Holland made his 32nd start on Monday and Yu Darvish will make his 31st start Tuesday.
Ogando is showing lately what might have been in those 14-15 missing starts. He has allowed just one run in 18 innings over two starts and four relief appearances since coming off the disabled list at the beginning of September. He has allowed just five hits and three walks while striking out 14.
"Right now, I feel strong," Ogando said. "I feel comfortable. I worked hard for that."
Ogando is 7-4 with a 2.93 ERA over 98 1/3 innings, and opponents are hitting .218 against him. His 2.93 ERA would rank fifth best in the American League if Ogando had enough innings. Only two qualifying pitchers have held opponents to a lower batting average. Ogando threw seven scoreless innings on Sunday against the Royals.
"I'm just really encouraged," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He has been outstanding, and he did it without a rehab assignment. He has been building up on the fly. I'm looking forward to his next start and beyond."
GM Daniels says Cruz's playoff status undetermined
ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels clarified comments published in USA Today on Monday on Nelson Cruz's suspension. The story quoted Daniels as having said the club would be in better shape if Cruz wasn't suspended, and it's a choice the Rangers outfielder made.
Daniels said Monday he doesn't blame Cruz for the club's current slump, losing 15 of its last 21 games down the stretch. He suggested the Rangers weren't better without the All-Star's bat in the lineup.
"Ultimately, the decisions he made put him in that position," Daniels said. "I'm certainly not putting any more than that on him."
Cruz said in the article if he hadn't accepted the 50-game suspension, Major League Baseball would have threatened to suspend him for 100 games for violating Major League Baseball's Basic Agreement and Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program. The outfielder will be a free agent at the end of the season.
"Him and [Tigers shortstop Jhonny] Peralta were in a unique spot that they were going to be free agents and had to weigh their interests going forward against their interests and the team's interests this year," Daniels said. "The 100 games versus 50 games, I heard that prior to him saying it today, but I wasn't really involved in those discussions."
Daniels said he still hasn't decided whether the club will bring Cruz back if Texas makes the postseason. Cruz will be eligible to return after Sunday's game against the Angels, so Cruz will also be eligible to play if the Rangers are in any tiebreaker games for the Wild Card spot.
"We haven't made a call," Daniels said. "I don't think it's in anyone's interest to start talking about playoff rosters. We just got to win tonight and go from there. We're right in the middle of this pennant race. We just got to play our best baseball one night at a time."
Rangers taking final week one game at a time
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers participated in batting practice with the video board tuned to the Orioles and Rays game Monday. Texas entered its three-game set against the Astros 2 1/2 games behind the Rays, who beat Baltimore, for the top American League Wild Card spot and 1 1/2 games behind the Indians for the final playoff spot.
While the club needs some help to make its fourth consecutive postseason appearance, the players were focused on their final seven games against the Astros and Angels.
"It's going to be an exciting week," Alex Rios said. "We know what we have to do: win games. We're still optimistic about our chances. We're ready to go. We just have to do the best we can in that particular game. We can't focus on the big picture. We need to focus on the little things and we'll be all right if we are able to do that."
Texas gained a half-game on Cleveland, which had an off-day, with a 12-0 win over the Astros. However, the club has witnessed its Wild Card lead evaporate in September. The Rangers once had a 5 1/2-game lead for the top Wild Card position through Sept. 5, but they lost 12 of 16 games to drop out of a playoff position. Despite the September slump, David Murphy doesn't want the club to press during the final week of the season.
"I just think knowing the result that happens when you press, I don't think you ever a see a team that presses play well," Murphy said. "A team that presses does not play loose. This group of guys does better when they're loose, easy going and having fun."
With the final seven games at home, for most clubs that'd be an added bonus in this situation. For the Rangers, however, they entered Monday's game on a seven-game losing streak at home. They've won just one of their last six series at Rangers Ballpark since Aug. 13.
"It's one of those things where you can't control things that are going on around the league," Joe Nathan said. "All you can do is try to win games within this clubhouse at this stadium right now. I think that's still got to be the main concern, because we haven't been doing a good job of that. It doesn't matter what goes on around the league, if we don't take care what goes on in this stadium, then we'll find ourselves packing and going home sooner than we'd like."
Players, Rangers Foundation assist local youth league
ARLINGTON -- Pitchers Joe Nathan and Derek Holland and shortstop Elvis Andrus have joined up with the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation to help the Southeast Arlington Little League.
The three players and the foundation are helping the league get out of debt after it was discovered that a former president allegedly embezzled over $20,000. The lack of money forced the league to cancel the fall season.
"Hopefully, we can do something to get them back on the field," Nathan said. "All the credit goes to the front office. When [assistant vice-president for player relations] Taunee Paur Taylor reached out to me and here's something I might have interest in helping out, it was a no-brainer."
The Rangers are also donating 500 tickets to the league for Wednesday's game against the Astros and will hold a pregame presentation for the kids.
• Lance Berkman has likely made his last start for the Rangers and will be used only as a pinch-hitter the rest of the week. Berkman is still bothered by inflammation in his left hip as well as a chronic sore right knee, and manager Ron Washington said, "I'm trying to get people out there who don't have health issues and are more physically fit."
• Sunday's 4-0 loss in 10 innings marked only the second time in 37 years the Rangers have been shut out in an extra-inning game. The last time was a 1-0 loss to the Twins in 13 innings on Sept, 22, 1992. Before that, it happened twice in 1976 and three times in 1972.
• The Rangers lost Sunday on a walk-off grand slam by Royals outfielder Justin Maxwell. It's the first time since 1967 that a scoreless game in extra innings came to an end on a grand slam. The last time it happened was by Don Buford of the White Sox on Sept. 14, 1967, against the Indians.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.