ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Suspended slugger Nelson Cruz hit several batting practice pitches over the left-field fence in the general direction of the temperature sign showing an even 100 degrees.
The Texas Rangers right fielder is headed to the Arizona instructional league with the idea of being ready if his AL West-leading team is in the playoffs when his 50-game suspension ends on the final day of the regular season.
Cruz wants to play in the postseason, and said so Friday in his first public appearance since he was among 13 players banned by Major League Baseball over their connection to Biogenesis of America, a closed anti-aging clinic in Florida accused of distributing banned performing-enhancing drugs.
"It's been a really rough few weeks," Cruz told reporters in a brief appearance without taking questions. "But I have good friends and good family. They're behind me."
Cruz took batting practice and caught up with manager Ron Washington and some of his teammates. He returned to Texas this week while the Rangers were finishing a road trip in Seattle. He had gone home to the Dominican Republic soon after he was suspended Aug. 5.
Wearing a red workout shirt in the Rangers' interview room, Cruz apologized to the organization and its fans "for the mistake that I make." He spoke evenly and repeated most of what he said for Spanish-speaking media.
Washington said Cruz "looked troubled" nearly four weeks ago when he was waiting for word of the suspension to come down. Not anymore.
"Spirit's high," Washington said. "He don't look troubled now."
The two-time All-Star issued a statement when he was suspended saying he made an "error in judgment" in trying to get ready to play after he said he lost 40 pounds with a gastrointestinal infection in late 2011 and early 2012. He still hasn't provided specifics, including what he might have taken.
His teammates showed support when he was suspended, and said many of the same things after seeing him for the first time in weeks.
"He made a mistake and we don't agree with what he did," outfielder David Murphy said. "But when you have a track record of being a great teammate and a great person, that speaks a lot. There's no ill will or any feeling like that. Everything is of love, and like we mentioned before, I think we would all welcome him back."
Washington hinted that Cruz was in his postseason plans, and showed no reservations about whether the quality of instructional league pitching would be good enough to get him ready for playoff games in the big leagues.
"The key to him is just seeing live pitching," Washington said. "If we end up getting in the playoffs, we're not looking for him to come and carry us. Just be a part of that lineup. He'll hurt somebody."
Cruz is hitting .269 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs and was only recently overtaken by Adrian Beltre as the team's home run and RBI leader. The Rangers haven't had trouble scoring runs without him, getting their two highest-scoring games of the season within three days in mid-August. Texas is 16-6 since the suspension.
General manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers suggested Cruz return to Texas and work out with the team, then play instructional league games. Cruz agreed to do both. He's allowed to be at Rangers Ballpark until the gates open, and will get to play in instructional league games when they start Sept. 18.
But Daniels didn't want to say the Rangers' desire to have him working out was a clear sign that they'd already decided they wanted him on the playoff roster.
"We're really not going to get ahead of ourselves with that," Daniels said. "We've got to make the playoffs. There's a big 'if' involved. We're not taking anything for granted. We're going to keep our options open and not make any decisions before we have to."
Cruz wants to make the decision easyCopyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.