SEATTLE -- When Nelson Cruz is able to play defense, he will return to right field. That means David Murphy will shift to left and Josh Hamilton will be back in center. That will be the Rangers' outfield alignment down the stretch and into the playoffs.

The Rangers had been platooning Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry in center field with Hamilton staying in left. But that will end when Cruz is ready to play. There is one reason why manager Ron Washington wants to stay with this alignment: more offense.

"Damage," Washington said.

But he also does not believe he loses defense by going with this alignment.

"Cruz is a quality right fielder. If Hamilton is in center he's one of the best in the game and we all know Murphy can play left field," Washington said.

Hamilton, who missed six weeks in the first half with a fractured bone in his right arm, has started 77 games in left field and 25 in center. The Rangers prefer him in left to reduce wear and tear as well as the risk of injury. But at this point Washington is ready to go with his best possible lineup to the end of the season and beyond.

"If we get a chance to be in the playoffs, that will be the case," Washington said.

As season wears on, Andrus feeling stronger

SEATTLE -- Elvis Andrus went into Saturday's game hitting .327 for the month of September. He hit .160 in September last season.

That's just one sign that Andrus is much stronger both physically and mentally at the end of his third full season in the Major Leagues than in previous years. His endurance has been a question mark in the past. That is no longer the case.

"Oh, yeah, I'm way stronger," Andrus said. "My body is stronger, I've learned how to prepare myself better. Last year helped me a lot. That was the first time I played so long. It taught me to take care of myself better, sleep more, eat right ... that's all carried into this year."

Andrus played in his 142nd game on Saturday. He played in 148 last season and manager Ron Washington wanted to lower that this year. He was looking to play Andrus in 135-140 games, but that plan took a hit when backup shortstop Andres Blanco missed significant time with a back injury. The Rangers still had Omar Quintanilla as a backup shortstop, but Washington didn't have the same confidence in him.

Andrus is finishing strong defensively. He still has 25 errors, the most for a shortstop in the American League. But he has not committed one since Aug. 19.

"I'm feeling good," Andrus said. "Defensively, I didn't do as good at the beginning of the season the way I wanted to, but it's how you finish the season. Right now I'm feeling good."

Cruz returns to Rangers' lineup as DH

SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz was in the Rangers' lineup on Saturday for the first time since straining his left hamstring muscle on Aug. 28 against the Angels. Cruz started at designated hitter and likely will start there on Sunday.

"That's the plan, but let's get through today and see how it comes out," manager Ron Washington said. "It's cool out there today, you never know what the recovery time will be."

Cruz will not play the outfield until Tuesday in Oakland at the earliest. That's what Cruz is hoping for, but the final decision rests with Washington.

"I'm feeling good," Cruz said. "Yesterday I ran and didn't feel anything, but playing a game is totally different."

Washington understands that. He has talked with Cruz about "managing" the hamstring the same way that Adrian Beltre has dealt with it. Beltre missed five weeks with a strained hamstring and has had no problems since returning at the beginning of September.

Managing the hamstring means being cautious and not reckless, especially when running the bases.

"He knows what's at stake," Washington said. "I don't want him trying to beat out balls in the holes, stretching singles into doubles, going from first to third if he has to exert himself. You have to know if you're going to make it. There's no guesswork."

Like Beltre, Cruz will suffer the same fate if he reinjures the hamstring.

"He's through for the year," Washington said. "Spring Training ... no maybes, for sure."

Old mate Hunter finds way to help Rangers

SEATTLE -- Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter pitched seven scoreless innings in an 8-3 victory over the Angels on Friday night. Then he found out that his former teammates with the Rangers were paying attention.

"I just looked at my phone and started smiling," Hunter said.

David Murphy and Mitch Moreland were among his former teammates that sent text messages to Hunter, congratulating him on his performance.

"I just said, 'Good job, Tommy,'" Murphy said.

"We appreciated it," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "It was a great performance. He did it before, so it was nothing surprising."

Hunter and first baseman Chris Davis were traded by the Rangers to the Orioles on July 30 for reliever Koji Uehara. But both still have a stake in the American League West race. They get playoff shares if the Rangers reach the postseason and both get rings if they go to the World Series.

"Maybe Tommy was trying to get a bigger playoff share," pitcher C.J. Wilson said.

Worth noting

• C.J. Wilson, with eight strikeouts on Friday, now has 198 on the season, seventh most in club history. Wilson, after getting Kyle Seager to hit into a double play on Friday, has 30 double plays turned behind him this season. That ties the club record set by Rick Honeycutt in 1983 and Kevin Brown in 1991.

• The Angels have announced that the final game of the season against the Rangers will begin at 7:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

• Mike Napoli went into Saturday's game hitting .312 and manager Ron Washington joked: "If this guy hits .300, he surely did hit it because he sure can't run."

• As of 4:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, fewer than 1,000 scattered singles and standing-room tickets remain for each of the first two possible American League Division Series games (home Games 1 and 2) at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.