Inside the Phillies: Carlos Ruiz the muse for the Phillies' pitching staff

Posted: February 20, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - If all goes according to plan, this will be a Phillies season filled with Rembrandts, Picassos, van Goghs, and da Vincis, and almost all these masterpieces will be produced on the same sturdy canvas that is Carlos Ruiz's catcher's mitt.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels are the artists who make up the first four spots in the Phillies' celebrated starting rotation, but Ruiz is their muse.

Ruiz said people tell him all the time that he is the luckiest catcher in the world, and he doesn't argue the point.

"A lot of people say that you have to feel good because you've been to two World Series, you've caught a perfect game and a [postseason] no-hitter, and now you have this rotation," Ruiz said. "I feel special because it's not that easy to have things like that happen. This is going to be fun. This year is going to be something special to be behind home plate."

Even though this is the first time these four pitchers have been together on the same staff, Ruiz has caught each of them because of Lee's previous stint in Philadelphia in 2009. After a recent workout at Bright House Field, the 32-year-old catcher talked about each of the Phillies' aces and the pitchers all explained why they like throwing to Ruiz.

Ruiz and Halladay developed an extraordinary rapport in their first season together last year, as evidenced by the perfect game in Florida, the postseason no-hitter against Cincinnati, and the National League Cy Young Award that now sits on Halladay's mantel.

In those signature games against Florida and Cincinnati, Halladay threw a combined 219 pitches. Only once, in the final at-bat of the no-hitter against the Reds, did Halladay shake off a pitch called by Ruiz.

"The first couple times I caught Roy I was like, 'Oh my God, this guy is unbelievable,' " Ruiz said. "The thing that I like about him is that he is so focused on playing the game, and he's always ready to fight. That's the kind of guy I like to catch. He doesn't care who's hitting because he's going right after you."

Ruiz also enjoyed the hitters' reactions to Halladay's often unhittable arsenal of pitches.

"It's not so much what they say, it's how they smile," Ruiz said. "When they smile, you can tell they know they're facing an elite guy, and there is nothing they can do. The only chance they have is when he makes a mistake, and that leaves them with very little chance because he is so consistent."

Halladay, a veteran of 12 big-league seasons and a three-time 20-game winner, gave Ruiz the ultimate compliment for the catcher's work last season.

"For me, it was by far the best time I've ever had with a catcher," Halladay said. "That definitely makes it a lot more fun."

Ruiz was the first catcher to ever log 200 innings behind the plate when Halladay was on the mound, and the pitcher's ERA was 2.13 in 27 starts with the catcher. That was by far his lowest ERA with any catcher who has ever handled him for at least 100 innings.

"Obviously we'd go over a plan before the game, but I started to appreciate how during the game there were times when he'd be real adamant about changing things because of something he saw," Halladay said. "It just made me feel like he really was seeing what was going on, and he was able to make those adjustments during a game. You gain a lot of trust when you see him adamantly say he wants to do something, and he's usually right."

Ruiz did not initially click with Lee after the lefthander came over from Cleveland before the 2009 trade deadline. In fact, reserve Paul Bako caught nine of Lee's 12 regular-season starts and the pitcher had a 4.50 ERA in the three games he worked with Ruiz.

It was not until the postseason that the two connected, when Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including his dominating, complete-game victory in Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Yankees.

"Cliff doesn't give the hitter a chance when he gets into the box," Ruiz said. "He's always ready to throw the next pitch. If you're the hitter, you're thinking, 'I better be ready because he works so fast.' Tempo is the key for him. I know when I catch him that I have to keep that tempo."

Like Halladay, Lee said he learned that Ruiz has a good feel for what's happening in front of him.

"He is good at taking a scouting report into a game and making adjustments on the fly with what you have working," Lee said. "He's good at reading hitters and reading swings. You don't shake him off very often. Even if it is something that you normally wouldn't do or expect, you have a lot of faith in him and that he sees something you don't."

It didn't take Oswalt and Ruiz long at all to develop a special chemistry. After giving up five runs and seven hits in his debut with the Phillies following a trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his next 10 starts. The Phillies were 10-0 in those games.

"After that first start, we kind of got on the same page," Oswalt said. "I told him I'm not afraid to throw a 3-0 change-up. I let him know that I feel like I can throw any of my four pitches at any time for strikes."

Ruiz said he believes Oswalt's ability to throw a fastball that looks as if it's going to be a strike is his biggest weapon, although he's quite fond of the veteran righthander's change-up, too.

"Like the other guys, he is special, too," Ruiz said. "His fastball is like Mariano Rivera's because it has that kind of movement. He throws the ball, and it looks like a strike until you swing."

Oswalt said Brad Ausmus, a three-time Gold Glove winner in Houston, was the best catcher he ever worked with and "Chooch is right there with him."

Hamels, 27, is the youngest of the Phillies' four aces, and Ruiz still believes he may end up being the best of the four. The two men have been working together since 2006, when they both made it to the big leagues for the first time.

"With Cole, I just think he gets better and better and better," Ruiz said. "I know he's going to be a big, big guy for this franchise. Even so far in this camp I can see a difference from last year to this year. Last year was the first time he really started throwing cutters, and now his cutter looks like a breaking ball because it's so nasty. He was throwing to both sides of the plate when I caught him, and his change-up is already there right now. I still think there's a chance he gets a lot better."

And Hamels believes Ruiz is just the muse to help him get there.

"He tries to get to know you, and then he makes you feel that he's with you 100 percent," Hamels said. "When you're frustrated, he can sense it, and he knows how to make the adjustments and cool you off. He tries to get to understand every pitcher, and then he feeds them that positive mojo."


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

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|