Keibert Ruiz hit two home runs off Chicago Cubs’ starter Marcus Stroman when Washington visited Wrigley Field earlier this month. The home runs were the fifth and sixth home runs of 2022 for the Nationals’ 24-year-old catcher, and a good sign, his manager said, the work the backstop and his hitting coaches Darnell Coles and Pat Roessler were putting in was paying off.
“That was awesome,” Davey Martinez told reporters in his post game press conference from the Windy City. “He’s another kid that’s working really hard with Darnell and Six down there in the cage, and trying to get back-loaded, on his back side a little bit better, and tonight it paid off. He hit two balls, two balls that were in, where he’s struggled getting to. He smoked them and it was a good sign, and good things to come.”
Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as one of four prospects who came back in return for a rental Max Scherzer, and a year-plus of Trea Turner at the trade deadline in 2021, Ruiz hit two home runs in 23 games with the Nationals after the deal last summer, and 21 over a total of 72 games and 316 PAs between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Triple-A Rochester, but the power hasn’t necessarily been there in his first full big league season in D.C.
Turning on pitches inside, and pulling them, Martinez said in Chicago, is something their switch-hitting catcher has been focused on when working with the Nats’ hitting coaches.
“We want him to get to the pull side when he can,” Martinez explained, “... and he’s going to have to do that. When they pitch him in, he’s going to have to turn on a couple balls. He had another cutter I think, and pulled it foul, a line drive foul, and I thought, ‘Oh, awesome.”
“He got his hands through really nice, and then like I said, he had two balls where he got his hands through and stayed behind the ball, and drove them.”
Ruiz’s two-home run game against the Cubs matched his total over the previous 29 games and 108 plate appearances, after he hit two in the first 58 games and 238 PAs this season.
Martinez was asked before last night’s game if the lack of power might be at least partially tied to the fact that he’s played so much this season, though Ruiz did sit out of the 2nd of 3 with the Cubs in D.C. on Tuesday after getting his bell rung on foul balls twice in the opener on Monday, and then getting hit by a pitch in the leg (and also with a day game in the finale today).
“He’s caught a lot,” Martinez said of Ruiz, who started the night on Tuesday tied for the 2nd-most games played by a catcher (as a catcher) in the majors this year, (85), tied with the Oakland A’s Sean Murphy (85), behind only the Philadelphia Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto (93). Ruiz is by far (three years) the youngest of those three catchers.
“And he’s been asked to do a lot,” Martinez continued, “... but I think it’s more or less where he’s at in his swing. He’s hitting the ball hard, he’s just not getting the ball up in the air. A lot of that has to do with — he’s not staying through the baseball, and that’s what we’re trying to work on with him, and like I said, you saw signs of what he can do when he does keep his head behind his swing, and does stay behind the ball. He can hit them hard, and he can elevate the ball. We’re going to continue to work with him on that. I think it’s going to come. He’s got tremendous, as we all know, bat-to-ball skills, I talk about it all the time.
“But it is a long season for a catcher, to be out there every day, and he’s done it and he’s done it well.”
Martinez said he was concerned to see Ruiz take two foul balls off the mask in one game on Monday, but happy to see there were no symptoms of any issues for the young backstop.
“He said he was fine,” the fifth-year skipper told reporters.
“The biggest thing with those things, if he starts having headaches or feels dizzy after the games, which we checked on him, then we really have to go through all these protocols, but he said he felt fine after the game.”
The day off, the manager said, was as much about the day game today, and getting him a break, than it was any concerns about Ruiz’s health.
“After I talked to our trainers yesterday, and I just wanted to give him a little breather. And plus we got a day game tomorrow, so I got to pick and choose. So, today will be a good day to just kind of get him to relax. Like I said, after the first [foul ball], when he said he felt a little light-headed, dizzy, it kind of scared me a little bit, then he got hit again, so for me it’s just about letting him take a break, I told him just be ready, if he can pinch hit later it would be good.”
As for potentially using Ruiz as a DH going forward to limit the wear on the catcher?
“Yeah, I want him to catch, I really do,” Martinez said. “There is a lot that he’s learning, a lot that he’s done, you know. And like I said, [Catching & Strategy Coach] Henry [Blanco] has been unbelievable with him and [Tres] Barrera both, so I want him to continue to catch. The days that he has off it’s kind of good for him.”