ST. PETERSBURG -- Nelson Cruz, who took batting practice on Monday and again on Tuesday, said he was feeling strong after running hard on the treadmill before Tuesday's contest against the Rays.

"I feel good," said Cruz, who is in the middle of another stint on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring. "I should be ready to go when I come off [the DL] next Tuesday."

Cruz said he was on the stationary bicycle for five minutes and then ran on the treadmill at a fast pace for five minutes as a part of his rehabilitation program. He then hit in the cage for quite a while.

This is becoming familiar territory for Cruz and the Rangers. The 31-year-old outfielder was on the disabled list three times last season due to hamstring strains, and he spent time out of action this past May because of a strained right quadriceps muscle.

The Rangers could use Cruz, and manager Ron Washington is the first to admit as much.

"We miss Nelson," Washington said on Tuesday. "He was banged up last year when we came here and he helped us out a whole bunch when he came back."

Washington said Cruz played a huge role in the team overcoming a bit of a slump last season, and he believes his return this month will be just as vital to the club making a return trip to the playoffs.

Cruz, who was in the midst of a five-game hitting streak when he suffered the latest hamstring strain while running the bases on Aug. 28, is batting .270 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs on the season. He's leading the club in homers and is second in RBIs.

The Rangers have gone 4-3 in his absence and entered Tuesday with a 2 1/2 game lead over the Angels in the American League West, which is their slimmest advantage since late August.

Last year, Texas went 7-8 from Aug. 15-29 when Cruz went on the DL for the final time. It took him a few games to get going upon his return on Aug. 30, but when he did, he stayed hot, batting .316 over his final 31 games, including .380 in a 12-game hitting streak in the September run to the playoffs.

Cruz joked about helping one of the Rangers' Minor League clubs -- four of which are in the playoffs -- win a title before returning to the Rangers.

"I'll help Triple-A [Round Rock] win a ring," Cruz said enthusiastically.

Once Cruz returns, Washington plans to use him similar to how he's inserted Adrian Beltre over the past few games.

"We may end up doing with him like I did with Beltre, where he plays the outfield one game and the DH spot another game, and then back in the outfield," Washington said.

Washington said the club will have Cruz "ramp it up" when the Rangers return to Arlington this weekend.

Cruz will still be eligible for the playoffs even if he spends time with a Minor League club.

Ogando returning to rotation Saturday

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rangers manager Ron Washington said Alexi Ogando will start on Saturday at home against the Athletics.

The start will be the first for Ogando since he surrendered three runs on five hits in 2 2/3 innings of the Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Rays on Aug. 31.

Washington said he was pleased with the way Ogando looked during his one inning of relief work against the Rays on Monday, in which the 27-year-old right-hander gave up a hit and struck out one in a scoreless eighth inning.

"After the early fastballs that were up, he looked sharp with his changeup, sliders, and he started getting his fastball down," Washington said.

The Rangers used Scott Feldman in Ogando's place in the rotation on Monday so he could take a mental break. Feldman allowed four runs in the Rangers' 5-1 loss to the Rays.

In his first full season, Ogando s 12-7 with a 3.68 ERA in 26 starts, but he is 2-3 with a 6.75 ERA over his last seven starts.

Worth noting

• The Rangers' system is full of talent, as four affiliates -- Triple-A Round Rock, Double-A Frisco, high-A Myrtle Beach and low-A Hickory -- are all set to begin playoff action on Wednesday.

• Along with the two Rookie affiliates -- Arizona and the Dominican Rangers -- and short-season Spokane, the Rangers' seven Minor League teams finished with a combined record of 431-332. The .565 composite winning percentage was tops among all 30 Major League organizations in 2011.