It might seem like they planned it. Keibert Ruiz, the catcher Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo called “main cog” in the deal at the trade deadline which sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers, is getting called up to catch the top pitcher acquired in the trade, Josiah Gray, tonight in Nationals Park.
Washington’s fourth-year skipper, Davey Martinez, said it was just a nice coincidence the top two of the four prospects they got in return from LA will be working together in what will be Keibert’s debut in D.C., but not the majors.
“It just kind of worked out,” Martinez said after the club announced that Keibert, the No. 1 prospect in the organization as soon as they acquired him, is coming up after going 24 for 48 (.308/.365/.577) with six doubles, five homers, six walks, and five Ks over 20 games with the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate, the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
“We kind of wanted to — kind of like I said,” Martinez explained, “... wait and let him get his feet wet with our organization, and then deem when he’s ready and this is the opportunity he’s going to get to come up here and play tomorrow.”
Overall on the year, the 23-year-old backstop has a combined .310/.377/.616 line with 24 doubles, 21 home runs, 30 walks, and 33 Ks in 72 games played between Triple-A in the Dodgers and Nationals’ systems, so the Nats and their manager are excited to see him at the big league level again after he debuted with LA in 2020 and played six games earlier this season.
“He’s awesome,” Gray said after his own debut with the Nationals. “He’s really fun to throw to.
“As I’ve told some of the guys here that asked me about him, I think he’s hit for more power this year than he ever has before, from both sides of the plate, so he’s really exciting to watch.”
“He’s playing really well down there [at Triple-A], we wanted to get him here, get him settled,” Martinez said on Sunday morning. “Let him get some at bats down at Rochester, and [GM Mike Rizzo] and I, we sat around, and we feel like he’s ready to come up and get an opportunity to play up here and watch him play, so as you know we’re all excited about it.
“He’s part of our future here, so the exciting part about is it worked out to where Josiah is pitching tomorrow as well, so these two guys are going to work together, so I’m looking forward to that.”
What will the Nationals be watching for with Ruiz up and expected to play a lot over the last month-plus remaining in the 2021 campaign?
“He’s just a young guy that he’s a very good athlete, understands the game. I’ve watched some of the games that he’s called,” Martinez said.
“He’s very into the game. He understands the catching portion of it. Obviously he’s young, he’s going to get better, we want to get him better. He’s still got to develop.
“His at bats were really good, really crisp, so like I said, I’m looking forward to watching him play up here in the big leagues and seeing what happens.”
MLB’s Pipeline scouts described Ruiz as, “one of the premier contact hitters in the minors,” in their write-up on the catcher, adding that while he does have, “... the tools to be a solid defender,” he, “... lacks consistency behind the plate,” right now, which is something that his new manager acknowledged, when Martinez said he wants to get Ruiz up and working with Henry Blanco, the bullpen coach in D.C. and a former major league catcher.
“He’s going to fly in some time today to get him in there, so I don’t know his schedule or what’s going on, but I’m assuming we’ll get him in so he can get a good night’s sleep and we’ll get him tomorrow, get him some batting practice, obviously he’s going to meet Henry [Blanco]. So, yeah, because Henry is going to work with him, and [Hitting Coach Kevin Long and [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler] will get him going.”
Martinez was clear though that no one is expecting Ruiz to immediately produce the kind of power he has coming up in the minors.
“We don’t want to put that in his head,” the manager said. He said he will stress the same approach he always does with his hitters when he speaks to the switch-hitting backstop.
“We just want him to have good, consistent at bats,” Martinez said.
“And the biggest thing that we’ll talk about is stay up the middle of the field, and take his walks, and accept his walks.”
As for how often we can expect to see Ruiz behind the plate down the stretch?
“I’ll see how this is all going to work out,” Martinez told reporters. “But we want to give him an opportunity to play and play every day, with that being said, you guys know how I use the catchers. He’s going to get some rest and maybe come off the bench, but we’re going to play him as much as we can.”