Phillies edge Braves as injured Ruiz ponders future

Posted: September 30, 2013

ATLANTA - Carlos Ruiz pointed at his left palm with his right hand to illustrate the damage. The area under his index finger swelled as the result of a bone bruise from catching.

"Sometimes the ball keeps hitting me in the same spot, over and over and over," Ruiz said. "It hurts real bad. Rest is going to be very important. But at the same time, if it feels great . . ."

He paused. The injury prevented him from playing Saturday, but Sunday means something. It could be Ruiz's final game in a Phillies uniform if he signs elsewhere as a free agent. He wants that moment, although it is unlikely he plays Game 162.

"I was thinking the last couple days, I don't know where I'm going to be," Ruiz said. "Maybe here or somewhere. I hope here. It's something I'm talking to my family about almost every day."

Without Ruiz, the Phillies won their penultimate game, 5-4, over Atlanta. The bullpen, led by Ethan Martin, stifled the postseason-bound Braves for eight innings. Jonathan Papelbon could not throw harder than 91.5 m.p.h. and allowed three ninth-inning runs to create drama.

Rookie Cesar Hernandez lashed a career-high four hits and scored two runs. The Phillies scored as many runs Saturday as they did in their previous five games combined.

Both Ruiz and the Phillies want their relationship to continue. Ruiz indicated talks with the Phillies will happen during October before free agency starts. When asked if he was curious to hit the open market and see how other teams value him, Ruiz said: "I hope I don't have to go through that."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would not say whether he has engaged Ruiz's camp in negotiations, although both manager Ryne Sandberg and Amaro insinuated last week a formal offer was made. Ruiz turns 35 in January and made $5 million in 2013. His power stroke improved in the second half. Amaro wants Ruiz back.

"I think that's clear," Amaro said. "I talked to him. He talked to me. I think mutually we would like to continue the relationship. But again, it takes two to tango. At some point we'll get together, negotiate, and see where it goes."

The Phillies prefer Ruiz because of his familiarity with the pitching staff and that he bats righthanded. This is a lefty-heavy lineup. Free agents Brian McCann and A.J. Pierzynski are lefties. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter with terrible career numbers against lefties.

There could be a substantial market for Ruiz, despite his advanced age, depending on how the catching carousel spins. The Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and Rangers are all in need of a starting backstop.

Ruiz's injury allowed rookie Cameron Rupp to start once more. He slashed a two-run single in the first inning and later doubled in the ninth. Rupp, a 24-year-old prospect who pushed his way into the picture, could battle Erik Kratz for the backup job next spring. The starter will be Ruiz or someone from the outside.

"We don't have anybody who is going to step in," Amaro said. "Rupp has done a nice job. Kratz, when he played, did OK. But I can't anoint either one of those guys as an everyday catcher."

For the last seven years, Ruiz was that guy. The Phillies want to extend that status. Even so, an uncertain future will generate a twinge of nostalgia Sunday.

mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

www.inquirer.com/zone

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