ARLINGTON -- The Rangers began play on Monday with a four-game lead in the American League West after a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays at Rangers Ballpark. They were also tied with the Yankees for the best record in the American League.

The Rangers decided that was good enough to announce that they are picking up manager Ron Washington's option for the 2010 season.

"I wish all our decisions were this easy," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "This was a no-brainer. We're very pleased with the direction the club is headed under Ron's direction and we're looking for many more years under Ron's leadership."

Washington was hired as the Rangers' manager on Nov. 6, 2006, and was given a two-year contract with two option years for 2009 and '10. Texas picked up the first option at the end of Washington's first season in charge. But they waited to pick up the second option and Washington entered this season as the first Rangers manager in 30 years not to have a guaranteed contract beyond the current season.

"I've been around the game a long time," Washington said. "I know where the focus should be. If things get done on the field, the contract will take care of itself. When you're a manager or a coach, those things are tied to success."

The Rangers started this season by losing nine of their first 15 games. But they went into Monday's game with the Blue Jays having won 27 of their past 41 games. They were 33-23 and in sole possession of first place for 33 straight days, prompting Texas to pick up the option.

"It's a beautiful thing," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "He's been leading this team all year. He's got us ready. Three years he's gotten a lot better. When you have a team that's going on the field playing for you the way we are you should get rewarded."

Daniels suggested the Rangers will likely discuss a contract extension Washington at some point at the end of the season.

"We are obviously excited for Wash," shortstop Michael Young said. "He deserves the opportunity. He's leading this club in the right direction. We're playing well this year, a lot of that has to do with him. We're happy for the guy. He's a players' manager.

"All you want as a player are people who are honest around you, shoot you straight. Wash is that guy for us. [He] tells us what's on his mind; there are no secrets around him, his door's always open. We feel like we can always talk to him."

Daniels and club president Nolan Ryan said picking up the option went beyond just the won-loss record.

"There is a certain energy that Ron brings to the club and the players feed off that," Daniels said. "They've taken on his personality about never giving up, always playing hard and always staying in the game."

"Ron has been very consistent as a manager," Ryan said. "The players respect him. They respond to him. Those are very important qualities you look for in your manager and the response you want for your team. Ron is a baseball man and has been in the game and knows the game inside out. When you look at a manager you look at how he handles his ballclub and how they respond to him."

Daniels and Ryan also praised Washington for accepting and embracing the club's youth movement over the past two years and being willing to work with the many young players that have been added to the core since he became manager.

"If you look at any organization from top to bottom, you've got to have a manager who embraces your philosophy and he does," Daniels said.

"Over the past year, you never heard Ron complain about what he didn't have," Ryan said. "He took what he had and made the most of it. He whole-heartedly embraced our offseason plan and the direction we're going and the team has done the same. It starts at the top."

The Rangers were 75-87 in their first year under Washington and finished in fourth place in the AL West. They improved to 79-83 and finished in second place. It's the first time they've finished higher than third place since 1999.

During that time Washington has been trying to stress the importance of pitching and defense, and the Rangers are finally starting to grasp the message. Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux have been instrumental in the improvement of the pitching staff, but Washington has placed great emphasis on defense that is finally being heeded. Texas went into Monday's game ranked seventh in the AL in defense after finishing last in each of the two previous seasons.

"This is a big day for me," Washington said. "I showed up at the ballpark simply to get ready for the Toronto Blue Jays. The contract situation hasn't been on my mind. I let the baseball gods take care of that. You just treat the game right and respect it.

"The players have a lot to do with this. Any success we've had goes back to my coaching staff and the players in the clubhouse. Totally."