Keibert Ruiz was 24 for 48 (.308/.365/.577) with six doubles, five home runs, six walks, and five Ks over 20 games with the Washington Nationals’ top minor league affiliate, the Triple-A East’s Rochester Red Wings, after he came over as one of four prospects acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade deadline deal that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner out to LA.
Overall on the season, the 23-year-old catcher had a combined .310/.377/.616 line, with 24 doubles, 21 home runs, 30 walks, and 33 Ks in 72 games played in the minors when he was called back up to the majors to make his debut with the Nats.
His new club highlighted the fact that Ruiz walked more than he K’d in the last three years before he played his first game for the Nationals, and he talked in a pregame Zoom call on the afternoon before debuting in D.C. last week about how he’d developed his patient and effective approach at the plate.
“In the minor leagues I always have that, but I don’t try to do too much. Before I was trying to like — swing at pitches close to the strike zone. Right now I’m just trying to get my pitch early in the count. I don’t care if I strike out, but if I get my pitch early in the count, that’s a good thing, that’s my plan right now, get a good pitch early, and with two strikes just fight, don’t get weak contact early,” Ruiz said.
An increase in his power numbers this year, with 21 home runs in 72 games before he came up, after he hit 28 total in his previous five seasons in the minors, Ruiz attributed to some of the adjustments he made with his swing over the winter.
“Lower half,” Ruiz explained, “I worked in the offseason too with my mechanics, just getting a little bit taller, and I think that helps too, the weight room, more swings, and keep getting better.”
“I watched a lot of his at bats,” manager Davey Martinez said after pencilling in the switch-hitting catcher as his No. 6 hitter in Ruiz’s first game with the club, “... and he hits the ball well from both sides.
“So, you know, I’m curious to see, like I said, it’s not somewhere where he might hit every day, but for right now I like him hitting in the six-hole.”
Going into Friday night’s game, Ruiz was 2 for 14 in his first three games, coming off an 0 for 5 day at the plate in Thursday’s series finale with the Philadelphia Phillies in D.C.
In a post game Zoom call after the Nationals’ loss to their divisional rivals, new teammate Juan Soto was asked what he thought of Keibert’s swing in the small sample he’s seen.
“As you see he’s a pretty good catcher, he’s been calling good games,” Soto said.
“His swing is pretty good too, I think he’s going to be able to hit the ball. He’s just getting used to the team, he’s a little shy, but I think he’s going to be fine.”
“He’s just very aggressive and pretty flat to me,” Soto added, “so that’s going to help him out to get on top of the ball and get the backspin.
“He’s been missing a couple balls, and every one is going in the air, so whenever he squares one it’s going to go a long way.”
“I think he tends to be a tad late right now and getting underneath the baseball,” Martinez said before the first game of Saturday’s twin bill with the New York Mets in the nation’s capital, when asked about Ruiz popping out in a few of his first at-bats with the Nats, “but he’s had some good swings at some balls and hit them hard. He hasn’t got many hits, but he’s hit some balls hard. I just want to see him get ready a little earlier, be on time a little bit and stay on top of the baseball.”
The fourth-year skipper said he wants to see the catcher take the same approach that he preaches with all his hitters.
Stay up the middle, look for line drives, and some will go out when you make solid contact.
“For me he’s a gap-to-gap guy that has potential to the ball out of the ballpark,” Martinez said. “But he’s got to think right-center, left-center, stay in the middle of the field, but I watch his swing, he’s got a good swing and I like his approach, he hasn’t really chased that much. So you know, just going to get him comfortable here, and he’s going to help us, I know that.“
The fact that he’s popping balls up early in his time with the Nationals, the manager said, is hopefully an easier fix than if he was struggling to elevate the ball.
“When you start seeing that and seeing him hit the ball in the air, it’s a matter of timing,” the manager explained. “Like I said, he’s letting the ball travel to get in deep, I think if he gets ready on time a little bit, you’ll see those balls flatten out or even seem him maybe hit them hard and hit them out.”
On Saturday night, after Ruiz went 1 for 5 with a run scored in the first game of two with the Mets, and Riley Adams started the nightcap of the twin bill, Nationals’ starter Josh Rogers, a 27-year-old lefty who returned to the majors for the first time since 2019, talked about how it was Ruiz who helped him get on track in the last month before he got the call to pitch down in Washington three months after he signed with the organization and was sent out to pitch with Triple-A Rochester.
“I think Keibert coming over, and him catching me honestly down in Triple-A,” Rogers said, “we got on the same page quick, 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. 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.”
Rogers isn’t the first pitcher to praise Ruiz’s preparation and in-game play, so a week into his time in the Nationals’ lineup, what has his manager seen from him in terms of pregame prep and decision-making behind the dish?
“He prepares himself really well day-to-day,” Martinez said of what he’s observed.
“He watches a lot of video, he studies hitters. He studies the pitchers. In-game, what I’ve noticed in-game, he determines what’s working and what’s not working throughout the game, and he figures out how to get hitters out.
“Yesterday, I thought he did a good job with what was going on throughout the game, the first game, but what I really like about him is the way he receives too. He gives a good target, he doesn’t move around very much back there, and he gives a nice solid target and I think the pitchers like that a lot.”