Nelson Cruz returns to Rangers’ starting lineup tonight

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Nelson Cruz is back in the Rangers’ starting lineup tonight against the Mariners as the designated hitter. He struck out in a pinch-hit appearance on Wednesday, but this will be his first start since straining his left hamstring on August 28.

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Rangers hope Cruz will be able to play right field again as soon as Tuesday. If he feels well enough to give it a go, Josh Hamilton will become the center fielder and the hot-hitting David Murphy will play left field. Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez, who have split center field duties for most of the season, will head to the bench.

Cruz, 31, is batting .270/.321/.530 with 28 home runs, 84 RBI, nine stolen bases and an .851 OPS over 470 plate appearances this season.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.