Inside the Phillies: Phils hope return of Ruiz triggers hot streak

Catcher Carlos Ruiz returns to the Phillies lineup Sunday after a 25-game suspension. BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
Catcher Carlos Ruiz returns to the Phillies lineup Sunday after a 25-game suspension. BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
Posted: April 29, 2013

READING - The gang, such as it is, will be back together Sunday in New York.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz returns from his 25-game suspension for using the banned substance Adderall and the Phillies hope it becomes a trigger point for a team that has stumbled out of the starting gate for the second straight season.

Returns, of course, have become as commonplace for the Phillies in recent years as they are the day after Christmas. They were able to survive and recover from the lengthy absences of shortstop Jimmy Rollins in 2010 and second baseman Chase Utley in 2011.

But when both Utley and Ryan Howard opened last season on the disabled list, the team faded out of contention by the all-star break and its run of five straight National League East titles ended. It was a foregone conclusion that the lengthy absences of Utley and Howard would have a major negative impact on the Phillies.

It should have been just as obvious that the all-star catcher's absence would have a significant impact on the team because of how much he means to the pitching staff and the offense.

"He hurt us by not being with us," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Friday night in Reading. "But the other guys should be pulling their weight and doing things that we haven't been doing. He's not going to be a savior for us. I don't expect him to be. He's just a good piece of the puzzle to have back on the club."

Over the last two seasons, the Phillies have rarely had Ruiz, Utley and Howard on the field at the same time. A year ago, that trio started only 23 games together, because shortly after Utley and Howard returned, Ruiz was sidelined with a foot injury.

From 2011 through Saturday, Ruiz, Utley and Howard have been together in the starting lineup just 93 times out of a possible 349 games. The Phillies have a .602 winning percentage (56-37) with that trio together and a .539 winning percentage (138-118) when they are not together.

In many ways, Ruiz's return is even more fascinating than the ones by Utley and Howard. There was a lot of speculation that Utley's knees would bring a premature end to his career, but he is off to a strong start after taking a different approach to the offseason.

Howard has become the star position player of most concern because he clearly is not moving as well as he did before his torn Achilles injury.

Ruiz, 34, and a potential free agent after this season, has opened himself to speculation about whether he can perform just as well without Adderall as he did while using it. It should be noted that he wasn't just good last year. Over his last three seasons, he has hit .303 with 83 doubles, 30 home runs, 161 RBIs and an .842 OPS. That, of course, is in addition to being a trusted catcher to a star-studded pitching staff.

How often he used Adderall during that span is unknown. Ruiz insisted that the Adderall, or lack of it, will make no difference.

"It was nothing that the medication did for me," he said. "I'm ready, and you're going to see what happens."

Amaro feels the same way.

"I don't think [Adderall] really affected him," Amaro said. "It's a stimulant. I guess a stimulant can affect the game one way or another, but I think it's for energy more than anything else. I don't think it's going to affect the way he plays. I really don't. I hope it doesn't."

That remains to be seen and it would be vehemently argued by some in the medical field who describe Adderall as steroids for the mind.

"It masks fatigue, masks pain, increases arousal - like being in the zone," Gary Wadler told the Seattle Times last year. "It increases alertness, aggressiveness, attention and concentration. It improves reaction time, especially when fatigued. Some think it enhances hand-eye coordination. Some believe it increases the mental aspects of performance."

Wadler is an associate professor of medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine and a past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List Committee.

Because he will be a free agent and because the Phillies need someone to stimulate their lackluster offense, Ruiz's return this season is even more important than the ones made by Utley and Howard a year ago. At least this season there is still time for this team to recover.

"I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself," Ruiz said. "I just have to relax and have fun and try to do my best. I know those guys are working real hard and at some point we're going to put everything together and we're going to have success."

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow @brookob on Twitter.

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