Carlos Ruiz is the heart and soul of the Phillies

Carlos Ruiz is congratulated by Ben Francisco after scoring yet another game-winning run , this time against the Reds in July.
Carlos Ruiz is congratulated by Ben Francisco after scoring yet another game-winning run , this time against the Reds in July.
Posted: August 10, 2010

Eleven years ago, former Phillies scout Allan Lewis told Sal Agostinelli that a short, stocky second baseman from Panama could hit and throw a baseball.

"I think part of our job is to dream a lot when you sign a guy," said Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting supervisor. "I liked this kid because Allan told me he could hit. He didn't think he ran fast enough to play the middle infield, but he thought he could catch because of the way he could throw."

Scouts dream. Players decide the reality.

Carlos Ruiz, signed at 19 years old for $8,000 in 1999, is writing a fairy tale. Or at least a Phillie tale.

Playing on a team filled with accomplished all-stars, an argument could be made that Ruiz has been the Phillies' most valuable player through the first four months of the season. His five home runs and 27 RBIs cannot compare with the statistics of most of his fellow position players, but Ruiz's manager, teammates and coaches understand the hidden value of what their catcher does.

"He gets the tempo of the game moving the right way," leftfielder Raul Ibanez said. "He stands up back there and you see him punch his fist into his mitt and he's barking and showing his intensity. He's the guy who is facing us. We're all looking at him. A lot of times if a guy is dead back there, it's human nature to imitate what you see. But when you see all that intensity back there, I think it rubs off on the rest of us in a positive way."

The catcher, of course, is the man on the field responsible for running the game by the digits he puts down behind home plate. Every catcher being schooled for the big leagues is taught that the work behind the plate is the most important part of the job. If the catcher does not have the confidence of the pitching staff, it doesn't matter if he hits .300 with 30 home runs.

Listen to a few of the Phillies' pitchers and pitching coach Rich Dubee talk about Ruiz.

Jamie Moyer: "I think if you went to other clubs around the league and said his name, I think their eyes would perk up and they'd say, 'You know what, he's a very good catcher.' Is he an all-star catcher? You know what, if he's not, he's darn near close to it. I'm going to be biased because I've thrown to him for three years, but I know the value of a catcher and it's important."

Cole Hamels: "I think he's very aware of what the hitter is trying to do in each count. He gives you a good target. It's almost like he understands what you're thinking and he's speaking to you without saying anything. There can be disagreements, but he makes you believe in his decisions because he knows or sees something in the hitter's approach. If a catcher can help you, it makes your job so much easier and he can do that so well."

Kyle Kendrick: "I think he knows how all of us like to pitch as starters. He reads the hitters well and he has a game plan and he sticks with it. He's very competitive and he loves to learn. He gets us fired up."

Dubee: "He's an all-star in my mind. I think he and [St. Louis'] Yadier Molina are the two best guys in the National League. I felt that for the last three years. That's taking nothing away from [Atlanta's] Brian McCann. He's a tremendous player, but I think what Chooch brings to our ball club is a little more than most guys."

Ibanez said a lot of things that Ruiz does on a daily basis cannot be statistically measured and that's true. One example came during the Phillies' 6-5 win over the New York Mets on Sunday. Manager Charlie Manuel decided at the end of the seventh inning that the Phillies' best chance to protect a one-run lead was to insert Ruiz as a defensive replacement for Brian Schneider.

"I like Schneider, but that's why I put Chooch in the game at the end because I think he's that good a defensive catcher," Manuel said. "He stops the running game if the pitchers hold the guy on."

Not all of Ruiz's contributions have been hidden this season. The 31-year-old catcher has had some terrific postseason moments hitting the baseball, but his career regular-season average coming into this year was .246. Those who saw Ruiz in the minor leagues knew he was a better hitter than that.

"I saw him in A ball and I always thought he was going to hit," Dubee said. "He always had a good, solid approach. I think sometimes he gets worn down. He's not a big, physically strong guy, but at the same time he has raw strength. When he gets a little worn down his swing gets a little long, but I always thought he was going to be a good, productive hitter."

Ruiz, who missed 20 games earlier this season because of a concussion will take a .295 average into Tuesday night's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. Batting sixth in the Phillies' injury-depleted lineup, he contributed a game-winning home run at Florida Thursday and an eighth-inning go-ahead single against the Mets on Friday.

"I definitely feel more confident because I've started to learn more things," Ruiz said. "I am relaxing and I know I can help my team with my offense."

Ruiz's teammates said the catcher also helps the team with his clubhouse demeanor.

"He's got a unique way about him," Moyer said. "He can poke fun and he can be the brunt of the joke, too. It has been fun to watch him grow and evolve into that. I think a lot of that has come along with his confidence. He feels like he belongs."

Actually, Ruiz wants to do more than just belong.

"We have a lot of leaders here," he said. "I want to be one of them."

Ransom back with IronPigs. Infielder Cody Ranson cleared waivers Monday and accepted his outright assignment to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Ransom batted .190 with two home runs and five RBIs in 22 games with the Phillies before being outrighted last week to make room on the roster for Mike Sweeney.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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