Sam Donnellon: Phillies' disastrous season taking attention from catcher Carlos Ruiz's stellar performance

Posted: July 03, 2012

POOR CARLOS RUIZ. He's had so many great moments this season, so many well-deserved moments, wrecked, ruined and trashed by his own team. In a year in which his usual pitch-by-pitch grit at the most grueling position in baseball has been matched by the magic of his bat, his efforts have been negated by brain cramps and lackluster play, and by mind-numbing decisions on the field and off.

In that respect, Sunday's lifeless, 5-2 loss to the Marlins on the day Chooch was named to his first All-Star team was fitting. On a rare day in which he did not do anything significant with his bat, the Phillies scored two runs — one via a groundout to third and the other on a wild pitch.

They are now 36-45, 11 games out of first place. They have lost five straight, one of many such streaks this season, yet their most significant trades to this point were moving Jim Thome to Baltimore for a pair of lower-level minor leaguers on Saturday, and moving Chad Qualls to the Yankees for the relief of his salary. The trade deadline is less than a month away, significant contributions from both Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are still at least a few weeks away and the Phillies are about to play six games against the Mets and Braves with a team that hasn't pitched well with a lead, a lineup that struggles to overcome even the smallest of leads, and a bullpen that seems to tire just at the sight of them.

Theirs or the other team's lead. They are squeamish with both.

The sad part of what should be his happiest times is that when Carlos Ruiz sits at a table during media day at the All-Star Game, he will be discussing what has gone wrong with his season, not what has gone right. He will be asked about his statistics only, not the statistics of a pennant race.

The Phillies would need to go 49-32 the rest of the way to win just 85 games, and that may not be enough. At about the same time Thome was dealt to Baltimore, several respected baseball writers were reporting the Phillies were shopping Cole Hamels, who, on Sunday, was named to his second consecutive All-Star Game.

This is not addition by subtraction. Even with the starter's struggles of the last month, there is no trade involving Hamels that improves this year's chances. Just the idea of Ruben Amaro Jr. shopping Hamels indicates the Phillies see the obstacles and luck involved in a dramatic second-half turnaround are not worth missing an opportunity to restock and reload for future seasons.

In fact, we are about to find out which GM Amaro learned most from — Pat Gillick or Ed Wade.

Where does that leave Ruiz? Between a rock and a hard place. His entire career has involved meaningful games. Now, at its apex, it will be about his numbers, about whether he can duplicate a first half in which he tried to save his team with a second half in which that will not be possible.

Where does that leave a paying public that already has bought most of the tickets for this season? Pretty much with Ruiz, between that rock and hard place. The last time the Phillies started as badly was 1997, when Terry Francona's team lost 94 games. Amaro had 175 at-bats and a .234 average in what was his second-to-last professional season. And the No. 2 starter behind Curt Schilling was Mark Leiter, who lost 17 games and finished with a 5.67 earned run average.

It's more than just wasting a career year for Ruiz, wasting a season that was rewarded with that obvious All-Star Game nod. It goes beyond the batting average, too. He's been ice in big situations, he's continued to put his body in harm's way on plays at the plate and even in pursuing those pop fouls that for this struggling staff can be the difference between a big inning and a scoreless one. He's walked more to the mound this season too, reminiscent of the job Jorge Posada did late in his career with a Yankees bullpen filled with young and yippy relievers, a bullpen that proved the difference when they outlasted the Phillies in winning that 2009 World Series.

Since, David Robertson, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have proven to be great and dependable arms. Maybe Antonio Bastardo, Michael Schwimer, Michael Stutes and Jake Diekman become such guys someday. But betting a $176 million dollar payroll on that? It's not likely to win you baseball executive of the year.

Unless it was a really bad year.

That's what it is now, by the way, officially. Not disappointing. Not even injury-plagued. The Red Sox and Yankees, whom the Phillies have been favorably compared to of late, have some of the same issues. They seem more prepared for contingencies than the Phillies brass was, less trusting that brief glimpses of good play (see John Mayberry and Bastardo) equaled arrival.

Amaro, who once had a 3-week torrid stretch of hitting in place of an injured Lenny Dykstra, should know this.

And if he doesn't, there's been the long, inspired and inspiring climb of his true-grit catcher right in front of him to emphasize the point.

Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

|
|
|
|
|