Phillies' Carlos Ruiz hoping to make the best of 25-day suspension

Suspended animation: Carlos Ruiz has plans to keep busy after the end of Grapefruit League play. He'll compete in extended spring training games.
Suspended animation: Carlos Ruiz has plans to keep busy after the end of Grapefruit League play. He'll compete in extended spring training games. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: March 10, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Carlos Ruiz knows the day is coming. The Phillies catcher does not ignore it. This is part of his penance.

His season cannot start until April 28 at the earliest because of a drug suspension. Exactly one month before that, his Phillies teammates will play their final Grapefruit League game in Florida and hop a charter flight to Philadelphia. Ruiz will not accompany them.

At that moment, the longest 25 days of his professional career begin.

"Mentally, I have to get myself ready for when I come back," Ruiz said. "I know it's going to be hard. I have to be strong. Real strong."

This spring is not about Ruiz, who last month issued a teary apology after two failed drug tests for Adderall that resulted in a 25-game suspension by Major League Baseball. Before he started Friday's game and caught five innings, Ruiz sat six of the preceding eight days. The Phillies must prepare their other catchers for April.

It is an interesting dynamic. Ruiz, 34, is a free agent at season's end. The Phillies' system is ripe with catchers, none more promising than Tommy Joseph. The 21-year-old prospect (and youngest player in camp) has impressed his teammates and coaches.

Ruiz had a career season in 2012, but current circumstances will force him to prove it all again.

"I'm going to try to have the same preparation as last year," he said. "I know I'll be out for a while, but I have to continue to do my workouts and make sure when I come back I'll be ready to go."

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ruiz will spend most of his time in April playing in extended spring training games. There are no restrictions there stemming from the suspension.

Major-league rules state Ruiz can start an official "rehab" assignment five days before he is eligible for activation. That would be April 23.

Amaro said the Phillies are permitted to send Ruiz to any minor-league team for that five-day stint. Thus, if the team wanted him to see some higher-quality pitching before he returns to the majors, he could go on the road with triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Ruiz said he would understand if Charlie Manuel were to use him less frequently during spring training. Entering Friday, Ruiz and Erik Kratz had identical playing time (six games, 15 at-bats). Humberto Quintero, the expected backup to Kratz during the season's first month had just eight plate appearances.

"Charlie has to give time to Kratz and Quintero to see the rotation," Ruiz said.

Ruiz caught Kyle Kendrick on Friday. The two have been teammates for six seasons and Kendrick admitted it will be strange to begin 2013 without him. There were apologies, Kendrick said. Then everyone forgets about it.

"It's not good," Kendrick said. "It is what it is. Obviously we would like to have him. But Kratzy knows all of us. He caught all of us. I think we're all pretty comfortable with him back there."

If there is any benefit to Ruiz's delayed start, it's that it could keep him on the field more. Ruiz required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last four seasons. April will serve as a mandatory rest period, and for a 34-year-old catcher, that cannot hurt.

"Definitely," Ruiz said. "I don't want to be there. But I'm going to try to take advantage of it and push myself a little bit more so when I come back I can go all the way to the World Series. It maybe can help me a little bit with some more rest.

"It's something I don't like. But it happened and I have to be ready."

Contact Matt Gelb at Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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