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Monday, September 23 2019 @ 02:46 am EDT

Slowly, but surely, Ruiz has stepped up to the plate

Sports Section By Brian Smith - Reading Eagle - Entering this weekend's series with Milwaukee, Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz was hitting .345 while leading the National League in on-base percentage at .472. Not bad for a guy who entered the season with a lifetime batting average of .246. He's the only guy in the Philadelphia Phillies' everyday lineup who never has been an All-Star. He's the only one not to have hit as many as 10 home runs in a season or to have knocked in at least 60 runs. He has the lowest lifetime batting average among the starting eight. But there's no downplaying how valuable Carlos Ruiz is to the Philadelphia Phillies. The 31-year-old catcher has become a rock behind the plate and a more than capable performer at it. His defense and game-calling have earned the praise and confidence of the pitching staff. He allows pitchers such as Brad Lidge to throw sliders in the dirt without fear that the ball will get away. He continues to improve as a hitter. He went into the weekend series at Milwaukee hitting .345 and leading the National League in on-base percentage at .472. Not bad for a guy who normally bats eighth.

What makes Chooch's emergence all the more surprising is the path he took. He was no high draft pick given multiple chances to succeed. He's had to work and fight the doubters the whole way. He's a classic late-bloomer. Ruiz was a second baseman when Phillies scout Allan Lewis first spotted him in his native Panama. Ruiz ended up converting to catcher and signing for $8,000 in December 1998. He then began his slow climb up the organizational ladder, spending the next seven full seasons in the minors. He battled injuries early in his pro career and when he came to Double-AA Reading in 2004, he opened the season as the backup to Russ Jacobson, a third-round pick in 1999. Jacobson floundered and Ruiz, given the chance to start, blasted a career-high 17 homers that season to open some eyes. He basically has continued to surprise ever since.

Still, the Phillies, nor anyone else for that matter, knew quite what they had in Ruiz. In the 2004 draft, the Phils used a second-round pick on catcher Jason Jaramillo and a fourth-rounder on Lou Marson. Both eventually earned spots on the organization's top 10 prospects list, as compiled by Baseball America. Ruiz? He never cracked the top 10. No matter, he made his big league debut in 2006 and spent his first full season in the bigs in 2007. He began that season sharing time with offseason acquisition Rod Barajas. Barajas struggled, while Ruiz performed well - he finished that season at .259. That May then-general manager Pat Gillick told the Reading Eagle, "He's got a chance to be regular catcher." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Gillick was right - and then some.

Ruiz has become a vital part of the Phillies' core - not coincidentally, Jaramillo and Marson have been traded away - the regular catcher on one of the best teams in the game. He's caught every game over the last three postseasons - he's a lifetime .303 hitter in the postseason; he entered this season with a .246 liftetime in the majors. He has made himself indispensable. If he were to miss significant time due to injury the Phillies would be in trouble. Thankfully for the Phils, the knee sprain Ruiz suffered last week wasn't deemed serious. What is serious, however, is the fact that Ruiz is among the top catchers in the National League. If he isn't careful, he'll lose one of the things that makes him distinctive in the Phillies' lineup. He'll become an All-Star.

On-base machine - Speaking of Carlos Ruiz, STATS, Inc. reports that he went into Friday leading all NL regulars in pitches per plate appearance at 4.55. They also had a few other interesting Chooch stats. He's 6-for-8 when he's ahead 2-0 in the count with 15 walks, a .913 on-base percentage. He's been retired just twice in 23 plate appearances when ahead 2-0. He's reached all nine times when the count has been 3-1 (3-for-3 with six walks). When the count is full, he's 4-for-12 with eight walks in 20 plate appearances, a .600 on-base percentage.

Injuries, part two - Here's an addition to last week's list of fluky Phillies injuries, as pointed out by a reader. Left-handed starter Curt Simmons was mowing grass on an embankment at his home on June 4, 1953, when he slipped. Well let The Associated Press pick up the report: "the whirling blades bit deep into the flesh of his foot, going to the bone in his big toe and severely lacerating the other toes." Simmons was 7-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 11 games before suffering the injury to his left foot. He returned July 4 and was 10-11 with a 3.41 ERA in 21 games the rest of the way. It's been said that Simmons never was the same pitcher after the injury, that his fastball lost some of its zip. I don't know about that, but he did go 14-15 with a 2.81 ERA in 1954 in a career-high 253 innings. Simmons, who resuscitated his career with the Cardinals in the 1960s, retired following the 1967 season with a 193-183 record and 3.54ERA.

Road trip? - Next month's series with the Blue Jays, which was moved last week from Toronto to Philadelphia because of the G20 Summit, is not the first instance of a series being shifted from Canada to Philadelphia. In 1991, Montreal had to move its final 13 home games, including two with the Phillies, out of Olympic Stadium after a 55-ton concrete slab fell on an interior walkway. The Phillies won those games in front of sparse crowds at Veterans Stadium. On Wednesday, Sept.18, they defeated the Expos 1-0 behind a two-hitter from Terry Mulholland in front of 5,963. The next night, they won 5-4 in 10 before 5,297. A couple of things will be different this time. For one thing, the Phillies were the home team in '91. Next month, they will will be the road team and wear their road grays at Citizens Bank Park. The DH also will be used. For another, don't expect the crowds to be sparse this time. Tickets for the three-game series go on sale to the public Friday at 9 a.m.

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