Keibert Ruiz Is Swinging it!:
In his first 10 games (eight starts), 23-year-old catcher Keibert Ruiz, the “main cog” in the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers for four of LA’s prospects, went just 4 for 33 (.121/.194/.152) with a double, two walks, and three Ks, but a nice run of three, three-hit outings in four games, heading into last night’s matchup with Miami’s Marlins in loanDepot park, had the backstop looking as hitter-ish as expected.
Before he was called up by the Nationals on August 30th, he had 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.
“He’s another young kid that his bat to ball skills are really, really impressive,” skipper Davey Martinez said before the 2nd of 3 in Miami on Tuesday.
“He swings the bat, he doesn’t hardly miss any balls, he fouls balls off, he fouls some tough pitches off, but he’s putting the ball in play, and that’s awesome. So, he made a little bit of an adjustment. He’s staying back a little bit better, he’s a little more upright from the top half, and it seems to be working out, so he’s doing well.”
Though he hasn’t hit for power in the majors with the Nationals so far, Martinez said that he thinks the fact that Ruiz is putting the ball in play and making solid contact (with a few hits on balls that weren’t particularly well-struck) is a good sign, and the power will come if he’s able to keep up the approach.
“Yeah, the power will come,” Martinez said, “... and I reiterate to him, ‘You’re a gap-to-gap guy, when you get a hold of one it will go, so just keep getting yourself ready on time.
“Keep being early, and make good contact and he’s been doing that.”
The manager also said he’s seen improvement from Ruiz behind the plate since he’s been up and working with Bullpen Coach (and catching guru) Henry Blanco in the majors.
“I see Keibert getting a lot better behind the plate,” Martinez said. “A lot better. We talked about his blocking, keeping the balls in front, rolling the shoulders over instead of being flat, so the balls bounce, and I know that Henry has been really working with him with that, and he’s gotten a lot better.”
Carter Kieboom got beat up a bit in the series opener in loanDepot park with a hit-by-pitch in the lower abdominal area, and some fingers bent on the basepaths, so the 24-year-old third baseman, who went 0 for 2 with two walks, the HBP, and a run scored on Monday, got a day off in the second of three in Miami.
“Carter yesterday, he got beat up a little bit,” Martinez said, “hurt his thumb a little bit, so just going to give him a day, and if we need him later on we can use him.”
“He slid a couple times,” the manager explained, “and the last time he slid at second base he got hit with the ball. He wears that wrist guard, but he jammed his thumb back, it was sore last night, and I talked to [team trainer] Paul [Lessard] and I just said, ‘Well, just give him a day, and let him go through his routine, hit, and if he feels okay, then we can use him off the bench.”
While he’s been in a bit of a September slump, going just 12 for 29 (.174/.260/.188) with one double, seven walks, and 19 Ks in 18 games and 77 PAs this month, Martinez said he’s seen tremendous improvement from the 2016 1st Round pick this season.
“Carter has made a lot of strides. Especially, like I said, in his defense, and his throwing. He had troubles throwing, and he’s throwing way better, you know. His at bats have been way better,” the manager said.
“I know he’s struggled, but yesterday he hit the ball hard to center field, and I told him, ‘Hey, that’s all you can do. You can’t guide it. All you can do is put a good swing on it, and hit the ball hard.’”
Keibert Ruiz had thrown out 1 of 6 runners (17% CS%) since coming up to the Nationals, and his partner behind the plate, Riley Adams had thrown out just 2 of 17 (12%) going into last night’s game, which is a whole lot different from what Yan Gomes (16 of 45, 36% CS%) and Alex Avila (6 of 15, 40%) did this season before Gomes was dealt to Oakland, and Avila missed time on the IL and came back as a mentor/occasional starter for the rebooting club.
But as Davey Martinez said last night, it’s not all on the new guys handling the catching duties in D.C.
“I think it’s — the young guys haven’t had a chance to really throw guys out,” Martinez said.
“You know, our pitching staff has changed quite a bit, so we’ve been talking to these guys about being a lot quicker to home, especially with the guys that we know that can run. Paying a little more attention to them, change their looks, change their times, holding the ball a little bit more, it’s all been addressed, but once some of these guys get on the mound, they just want to — they’re really focused on the hitter, and they just want to get that hitter out, but we definitely have to do a better job, especially in these close games, of not giving an extra base, giving our young catchers a chance to throw guys out.
“Both Keibert and Riley both got good arms, and they throw the ball well, so I want these guys to get an opportunity to throw these guys out, but we got to be quicker to home plate, we’ve got to stay out of patterns, a lot of times I’ll sit there and I’ll watch our pitchers come in and I can sit there and count, ‘One thousand one, one thousand two, home,’ next pitch, ‘One thousand one, one thousand two, home, so they they got to try to stay out of those patterns like that and be a lot quicker.”
As Martinez explained it, his pitchers and catchers have to work together to find a balance between holding runners and focusing on the hitters at the plate with runners on.
“That is the balance,” he said. “That is why this is talked about with them before the games.
“Which guys can run, which guys we got to pay attention to, but when they come in the game, it’s hard to emphasize — we’ll throw over as many times as we can, but you want guys to focus on the hitter, you know, you don’t want — if they’ve got some rhythm going on, I don’t want them to focus on the baserunner, because that’s when you start making mistakes. As a baserunning coach, as a first base coach, as a bench coach, and now as a manager, we want to kind of have pitchers focus on the runners and forget about the hitter. It happens a lot, the next thing you know, they misthrow a pitch or they throw a pitch where we can hit, that’s what you want.”