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Washington Nationals talk working with Keibert Ruiz: Nats’ pitchers liking Ruiz’s work...

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Josh Rogers, Erick Fedde, Josiah Gray, and Paolo Espino on working with Keibert Ruiz...

MLB: SEP 09 Nationals at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rogers and Ruiz:

Washington Nationals’ lefty Josh Rogers talked after making his first start with the club back on September 4th, about work he did with catcher Keibert Ruiz when the two were together at Triple-A Rochester as a key to a successful run, which resulted in a call-up back to the big leagues three years after he debuted in the majors with Baltimore’s Orioles in 2018 and then injured his elbow in 2019.

Ruiz joined the organization in a trade deadline deal as one of four prospects the Nationals received in return for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Rogers was already in the system after signing a minor league deal in June, when the O’s released him after just four appearances in the minors following Tommy John surgery in ‘19.

“I think Keibert coming over, and him catching me honestly down in Triple-A, we got on the same page quick,” Rogers explained, “and the way he was calling the game for me, he really set me up for success and gave me a lot of confidence down there.”

New York Mets v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Rogers said he was healthy coming off a year in which he basically worked out on his own in the pandemic season, but things hadn’t really clicked for him to that point.

“My arm had felt good all year, and I was just trying to be consistent and throw more strikes and have more consistent starts, and when Keibert got there, it really gave me — I had a really good start with him and I just kind of built off that, and so I’m just going to try to keep rolling.”

“I’m not saying that against any of the other catchers down there,” Rogers added, “but we just gelled really quickly, and it kind of kickstarted that momentum. He had a great game plan for us down there, and like I said, just kind of built on the momentum and just tried to keep it rolling.”

Rogers isn’t the only one raving about the work Ruiz has done since he was called up to the majors at the end of August.

Espino and Ruiz:

“He’s really good,” veteran starter Paolo Espino said.

Espino has a 1.59 ERA and a .213/.294/.246 line against in three starts and 17 IP working with Ruiz so far.

“He comes to me every now and then with ideas and pitches that he thinks he likes. He definitely told me that the changeup was looking good, so I definitely threw a lot more today.

“I worked on it during my bullpens, I wanted to throw a few more changeups. So he comes to me, he’s really good, he wants information, so that’s really good for how young he is.”

After his third start with the catcher behind the plate this past weekend, Espino reiterated how impressed he’s been with the young backstop so far.

“He definitely called a good game, I didn’t have to shake him off that much, he was going straight to the plan,” Espino said. “He was calling — he called a really good game. In-between innings I said, every time — I like it, I like in-between innings when we’re in the dugout he always comes and asks, asks stuff, like, ‘What do you think we’re going to do next?’ So I like how he’s catching.

“I like how he’s managing himself, so I can see, and everybody can see how mature he is behind the plate.”

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Fedde and Ruiz:

Erick Fedde talked after holding the Miami Marlins to a run on three hits over five innings in a September 14th outing, about beginning to get comfortable, and on the same page with Ruiz early in their time working together.

“I think he’s starting to get a feel of what I like to do to certain types of hitters,” Fedde said.

“Whether it be like lefty power guys or slap hitters or whatnot, I think he’s starting to get a feel and see how my stuff effects — and I don’t know, I think he’s been really good about being a presence behind the plate. If he calls a pitch that he really believes in, he’ll give me kind of like the fist of, ‘Let’s go!’ and ‘You’ve got this!’ Like come right at them, and that’s a good feeling to know that someone believes in that pitch right there, and I think it really gives me confidence really going after them. I think it leads to the lower walks too.”

Gray and Ruiz:

Josiah Gray, who worked with Ruiz while both were in the Dodgers’ system, before he too came over in the Scherzer/Turner deal, said he and the catcher were getting back on the same page after three starts together with the Nationals.

‘We were on the same page, we were attacking guys, we were going right at them,” Gray told reporters. “A lot of the counts I was in I was attacking — I’m actually interested to go back and look at how many first-pitch strikes I got tonight, and just evaluate that and see how the results kind of swayed if I got a first-pitch strike or if I didn’t.

“But we were in the zone tonight, and I’m really looking forward to the next few outings we have, and then next year, working together and going out there and dominating some hitters.”

Rogers and Ruiz Pt. 2:

In Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins, Rogers and Ruiz were matched up again for the first time since both came up to the majors with the Nationals, and he said they were able to get right back to it after he’d worked with another catcher, Riley Adams, who was acquired in a deadline deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, in his first three starts back in the majors.

“Me and Riley kind of got off — I’d never thrown to Riley before, and we got off to a good start those first three,” Rogers said.

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

“Me and Keibert, like I said before, down in Triple-A were just on the same page and from the get-go, so I was pumped to get him behind there last night, and we picked up right where we left off in Rochester, like the last time I’d thrown to him. Fastball command early, honestly, for me wasn’t great. For me it needs to be better, but it was a lot of fun working with my boy back there, he’s awesome.”

As Rogers explained it, it’s Ruiz’s competitive nature that sparked something between them and lit a spark for him.

“He’s a competitor. He’s got a crazy amount of heart. He wants to win more than anybody on this team — well maybe not anybody on the team, but just as much as anybody on the team, that’s for sure. He’s got crazy heart, and he wants to win,” Rogers said.

“He jumped me in the fifth inning in Rochester one time, he comes out and he’s like, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do, this is how it’s going to be.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this guy is 23 years old coming at me like this,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s go man,’ so I’ve got crazy respect for him and it’s just a lot of fun throwing to him.”

Martinez on Blanco & Ruiz:

Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez too talked recently about the improvement he’s seen from Ruiz even in the last few weeks since he was called up to 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 [Bullpen and catching coach] Henry [Blanco] has been really working with him with that, and he’s gotten a lot better.”

Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals
Keibert Ruiz #20 and Henry Blanco #35 (wearing #21 in honor of Roberto Clemente Day) of he Washington Nationals look on from the dugout
Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ruiz hasn’t been up that long, but he’s getting on the same page with his staff.

“It’s been good,” Martinez said of the catcher’s adjustment to a whole new group of pitchers.

“It took a while for him to actually learn our pitchers, but he’s getting — like I said — every day he’s getting better, he’s starting to understand. This is the reason I wanted Henry [Blanco] in the dugout with our two young catchers now, and having Alex [Avila] here as well.

“Henry has done a great job in helping these guys understand pitch sequences, what to do, knowing who’s up behind a hitter, where maybe we don’t have to pitch to this guy because he’s hot, and pitch to the next guy.

“So Henry has done a lot of that stuff with him and you can see it’s actually transpiring a little bit. I’m watching the games, we have charts, I look at things, and in my mind I’m saying, ‘Okay, this is a good spot for a high fastball,’ and you know, now a lot of times, before where we thought it was high fastballs, they were going sliders, down and in, and I thought, ‘Huh, that’s interesting.’ But now I’m starting to see, ‘Okay, this is a good spot for changeups,’ and they’re throwing the changeup or throwing the slider, and it’s good to see.

“And Henry does the same thing with them. So Henry is sitting there, and he’s calling games in his mind, and he’s kind of trying to see what they’re thinking and what their thoughts are, and if something doesn’t seem to work right, if something does work right, Henry’s right there to tell them, ‘Hey, great job.’ ‘Hey, tell me thoughts, why were you doing this, what were you trying to do?’ And he gives them his feedback, so it’s been great.”

In addition to the work he mentioned Ruiz and Blanco doing on blocking balls, what else are the two of them working on?

“Being a lot quieter behind the plate,” Martinez said. “He likes to receive the ball and try to come up underneath the hitter, and we tried to explain to him, sometimes you do that you’re going to get hit with a backswing, got to stay back, I don’t want to see him get hurt. He’s worked a lot about that. We worked a lot with him about — I talked about his blocking, rolling his shoulders so he keeps the balls in front of him instead of balls going out to the side, and he’s done a lot better. The kid wants to work, he’s always wanting to work, he’s always wanting to get better.

“And I ask Henry every day, ‘What are your thoughts?’ And he says, ‘Hey, you know what, he’s going to be good.’ He really wants to be good, he’s going to be good, you can tell him anything, you can critique him, and he takes it and he runs with it, and he goes out the next day and he works on it, so he’s been great.”