One sure thing for Phillies: Ruiz's return

Phillies starter B.J. Rosenberg allowed three hits and a run in four innings against the Nationals.
Phillies starter B.J. Rosenberg allowed three hits and a run in four innings against the Nationals. (MANUEL BALCE CENETA / AP)
Posted: October 04, 2012

WASHINGTON - On the road to a bitter end, Carlos Ruiz was standing behind the batting cage Saturday in Miami when a 23-year-old, baby-faced catcher introduced himself. It was Florida Marlins rookie Rob Brantly.

"For me," Brantly told the Palm Beach Post, "he's what every catcher wants to be."

One more day remains in this Phillies season, which the team can finish with a winning mark only with a victory Wednesday in the final game. The Washington Nationals, crowned division champions a night earlier, won, 4-2, Tuesday night with a bare-bones lineup.

When it unceremoniously concludes Wednesday, the easiest decision Ruben Amaro Jr. will make is exercising Ruiz's $5 million option for 2013.

"It's pretty obvious," the general manager said.

It is not as clear how long into the future the relationship will last.

Ruiz grounded out in his only at-bat Tuesday, and is expected to start in Game 162. There is a good chance he will bat cleanup, which he has done 31 times in 2012. It's an amazing number considering that he had batted higher than sixth exactly once in his career before this season.

"Chooch has come into his own as a hitter," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We'll see if he can keep that next year. That means we have a middle-of-the-lineup hitter."

Talks of a multiyear extension for Ruiz have not begun. Amaro said that it is something he has thought about but that few internal discussions have transpired. There have been other issues of more immediate importance, he said.

"I think everybody knows how we feel about Chooch," Amaro said, "and what he brings to our club."

If Ruiz maintains this pace, he will be alone in history. Ruiz, 33, is hitting .326 with 16 home runs and a .937 OPS. Even with the threshold lowered to a .300 batting average, 15 home runs, and a .900 OPS, only two catchers age 33 or older have posted such seasons: Roy Campanella in 1955 and Jorge Posada in 2007.

Campanella was 33 when he did it. He never hit better than .242 again, and his career ended two years later.

Posada was 35 in 2007 and rewarded with a four-year, $52 million contract that winter. He never played more than 120 games in the following four seasons and hit .258 with a .803 OPS during the length of the deal.

When asked for a comparison to Ruiz's epic season, Amaro was hard-pressed to name one.

"We're out there on an island," he said. "That's OK. As we always say, we like to pay players for their performance. He does what we've asked him to do and then some."

Inside a clubhouse with great turnover, Ruiz has emerged as a dominant personality and one of the most respected players.

"Very strong," Amaro said. "That's a factor, too."

The lone knock against Ruiz would be his inability to stay healthy; he has required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last four seasons. He missed 32 games in 2012 with a partial tear in his left foot.

Injuries, of course, are common among catchers. It's a position that rarely ages well. Amaro was quick to note that Ruiz did not assume full-time catching work until he was 21.

"There are a lot of factors," Amaro said. "His age is a factor, but how many catching years does he have? He has had some injury bugs. These are all things that will factor in. But the bottom line is we love the guy. We see him as a guy who is going to be a part of our future.

"We just have to make, at the appropriate time, smart decisions about how far into the future we'll have him."


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

 

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