UPDATE: Monday, Sept. 30, at 3:50 p.m. ET
Cruz has been placed in the Rangers' lineup tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The two teams will meet in a tie-breaking play-in game to decide the AL's second wild-card team.
Nelson Cruz batting sixth tonight for #Rangers as their designated hitter.— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) September 30, 2013
#Rangers' lineup: Kinsler, 2b; Andrus, ss; Rios, rf; Beltre, 3b; Pierzynski, c; Cruz, dh; Moreland, 1b; Gentry, lf; Martin, cf.— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) September 30, 2013
Before the game, Rangers manager Ron Washington commented on having Cruz back in the lineup, via Scott Miller of CBS Sports:
Washington on Cruz: "I'm not expecting to see the Nelson before he left. If you throw something in wrong spot, I expect to jump up and down.— Scott Miller (@ScottMCBS) September 30, 2013
Ron Washington on Nelson Cruz being around again: "Awesome. He even got his braces off."— Scott Miller (@ScottMCBS) September 30, 2013
---End of update---
With a 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on the final day of the regular season, the Rangers clinched a berth in the first regular-season tiebreaker game since 2009. Tampa Bay also won Sunday to keep its dream alive. The winner of Monday's game will subsequently play the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday in baseball's new one-game Wild Card matchup.
Cruz, who was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal, will be eligible starting Monday. He'll also be eligible for the postseason should the Rangers defeat the Rays.
The 33-year-old slugger has not played since Aug. 4. He batted .269 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI in 108 games before the suspension.
In a press conference announcing his return, Cruz expressed his excitement about coming back and said he hoped Washington would grant him the chance to play.
The Rangers manager has not commented on whether he'll pencil Cruz into the lineup. Texas acquired Alex Rios in August to take over Cruz's spot in right field and bat in the No. 3 hole. Rios has hit .281 with six home runs and 25 RBI since coming over from the Chicago White Sox.
The impending lift on Cruz's suspension had been a prevailing storyline for Texas as it tried to lock up a playoff berth. While still a member of the team, some have questioned the morality of including a convicted PED user on a playoff roster during the same season in which he was suspended.
Last season, the San Francisco Giants chose to keep outfielder Melky Cabrera off their postseason roster even after he served a 50-game PED ban.
Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who was also barred for his Biogenesis involvement, returned to the team Friday. The club, which had long since clinched the American League Central, played him in each of the games over the weekend and plans on shifting him to left field for the playoffs.
No players suspended in this matter other than Cruz and Peralta are members of playoff teams.
Whether Cruz would be welcomed back into the clubhouse was never in question.
"He made a mistake and he accepted it like a man, like a human being," shortstop Elvis Andrus told Richard Durrett of ESPN. "We know he did something wrong. He paid for that and he wants to start brand new. We love him. He's part of our family and we need him in the lineup. We'll welcome him and he knows it."
Should Ron Washington play Nelson Cruz on Monday?
Now the question is whether he'll be back in the lineup. The Rangers have won seven straight games to make the playoffs, atoning for an early September swoon that nearly caused them to miss the postseason. With the team red-hot now, though, it's possible that Washington sticks with who got it here.
But considering the way Daniels embraced Cruz on Sunday, odds are he'll be back in the lineup in some capacity.