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Washington Nationals’ Keibert Ruiz and the pillars of the next championship-caliber team…

One last story from Keibert Ruiz’s press conference on Saturday…

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

“We couldn’t be happier that a player of his character and ability-level chose to sign long-term with us,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters of the reported eight-year/$50M extension catcher Keibert Ruiz signed with Washington over the past weekend.

“It’s a testament to [Ruiz] and his family and to the organization,” Rizzo continued, “and like I’ve said many, many times, with a deal of this length and this type of money, it’s more about the person that we sign more than the player, and we feel very confident that we’ve got ourselves a great person and a great player in Keibert.”

“I’m really happy for him,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said as he sat on the dais in West Palm Beach, FL along with Rizzo and Ruiz. “I’m really happy for his family. We often talk about how we invest in players, and I think it’s kind of the other way. He’s investing in us for long-term and that means a lot, it really does.”

Coming into Spring Training last month, Ruiz said, he had no expectation of this sort of deal getting done.

“No. To be honest, I didn’t think that was going to happen,” the 24-year-old catcher told reporters.

“I’m just grateful for this moment.”

For a rebooting ballclub, signing Ruiz to a long-term deal gives them some stability and consistency as they develop all the talent assembled since they kicked off their organizational reset at the deadline in 2021, when they acquired Ruiz, Josiah Gray, pitching prospect Gerardo Carrillo, and outfielder Donovan Casey from LA in a trade which sent both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers.

“I think that relationship is special,” Rizzo said of the bond between a young catcher and his pitchers. “And I think it’s important to get one of your core pieces as your catcher. I think you look at a lot of championship-caliber clubs, the catcher is the core piece, he’s kind of the captain or general on the field. It’s a difficult task, not only the physical rigors of catching, taking foul tips off the mask and getting little nicks and that, and not only the offensive side you have to worry about, but you have to worry about your 13-man, 14-man, 15-man pitching staffs, and the good thing about Keibert is the pitching staff is as important to him as his batting average, and I think that’s a huge statement. And as he gets to catch and gets to know these pitchers, not only on the team now, but on the team in future years, I think they’re all going to grow together.”

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Ruiz, who debuted with the Dodgers and played for the Nationals in 2021, finished his first full season in the majors in 2022 with a .251/.313/.360 line, 22 doubles, and seven home runs in 112 games and 433 plate appearances, with a .992 fld%, 20 runners caught stealing, and four total runners picked off first base.

“I just was happy to be in the big leagues,” Ruiz said when asked what he learned about himself in his first full big league run, which ended as a result of a testicular contusion in September.

“[That] was my first experience being in the big leagues, and if I can do that, I can do better things than that. I know I can do it, I’ve just got to work hard every day and the work is going to pay off, and first of all I want to keep my defense first and then hitting. If I can help my pitchers throw 5-6 innings, I know we’re going to be good, we’re going to win games.”

“Seven,” his manager said, upping the inning total he’d like to see from their starters.

“Seven, eight,” Ruiz joked, not missing a beat.

“But yeah, that’s my goal this year, make those pitchers look good and I know my bat is going to be there.”