This was always going to be part of the plan, and Ruiz knows he can't complain. He is the one who twice tested positive for a banned stimulant, triggering an automatic 25-game suspension in late November that will force the Phillies to start the season without the man who has become their heart and soul. And if it provides any solace to Major League Baseball, its punishment seems to be working. All you need to do is listen to Ruiz' voice to understand how much life on the sidelines is eating at him.
"It's hard, because I want to play," Ruiz said. "But at the same time, there is nothing I can do, you know?"
If he played another position, the Phillies would be able to find him some more at-bats in Grapefruit League play. But when it comes to playing catcher in the major leagues, offense is the least of a team's concerns. A catcher is part athlete, part horse whisperer, charged not only with producing runs but helping his pitchers prevent them. He must know their repertoires, their psychologies, their nonverbal cues.
For the first 25 games of the regular season, those duties likely will be shared by journeymen Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero. Kratz appeared in 50 games for the Phillies last season and was one of the few pleasant surprises in the team's dreadful campaign. Quintero was signed as a minor league free agent after spending 2012 with the Royals. This spring, they have been joined by 28-year-old catcher Steven LeRud, who appeared in three games with the Phillies last season.
"There's always a learning curve," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Kratz probably has the most time with those guys, but Q and LeRud, those guys are coming pretty fast. It's basically just spring training. They haven't seen those guys on a regular basis. But both of them have been fine. When we get narrowed down, there will be more talks about whose on the mound and what they are and making them aware."
Ruiz remains involved in the day-to-day handling of the pitching staff. Recently, he and Kratz sat down for a powwow about Roy Halladay, who has had a rocky couple of weeks, thanks to a rough outing against the Tigers followed by a stomach ailment that forced him to leave his start on Sunday after one inning. Plenty has been written about the chemistry between Ruiz and Halladay, and you get the sense that the catcher is taking the struggles almost as hard as the veteran righthander.
"You have to swallow your pride," Kratz said. "He wants to be the guy that they look to. I think anybody is like that. Whoever isn't on the big-league team wants to do that . . . I think it's a lot harder to swallow your pride than people think, but he has done that, and he has done it very gracefully. He has done nothing but helped. And that's just how he is. You can't change who he is. Success, failure, suspensions - he wants to do well, and he wants the team to do well, and he knows that if he does well, the team does well."
On Tuesday, Ruiz gave Kratz a vote of confidence, saying: "I think he'll do a great job. He caught everybody last year and did a great job."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Ruiz have talked about the plan for him, about the desire to get the other catchers ready for the regular season.
"I'm trying to get myself in good shape, do my workouts so that when I am back I am ready to go," Ruiz said. "I feel like I still have time to get ready for the season."
That the season will start without him appears to be sinking in. But when he returns, close to 140 games will remain on the schedule, more than enough time to make an impact.
"One hundred forty games, yes," Ruiz said.
And then he cracked a smile.
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