Ruiz finally shows off power stroke with big night

CHICAGO – Ask the Nationals coaching staff about Keibert Ruiz’s offensive skills, and they’ll immediately rave about his bat-to-ball skills, his ability to make contact anywhere in the strike zone and frequently out of the strike zone.

But they’ll also point out that Ruiz sometimes is too good at getting the bat on the ball for his own good. Sometimes he’ll be so focused on just making contact, he’ll forget that it’s OK to swing for the fences from time to time, as well. If the pitch is in the right spot, particularly on the inner half of the plate, Ruiz has the ability to turn on it and hit it a long way.

Which made the young catcher’s performance during Tuesday night’s 6-5 victory over the Cubs so encouraging to those who have been watching him all season and waiting for something like this. In each of his first two at-bats, Ruiz turned on an inside pitch and wound up homering to right field.

“Tonight, it paid off,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He hit two balls that were in, where he’s struggled getting to, and he smoked them. It was a good sign of things to come.”

Through his first 326 plate appearances this season, Ruiz hit only three home runs. His 18 doubles helped allow him to remain productive, but the Nationals knew there was more power in his swing. It was a matter of recognizing which pitches he can try to drive to right field, and which ones to be content to simply hit the other way for singles and doubles.

“We want him to get to the pull side when he can,” Martinez said. “He’s going to have to do that. When they pitch him in, he’s going to have to turn on a couple balls.”

Which Ruiz is finally starting to do. He homered Aug. 3 off Mets reliever Mychal Givens, driving the ball deep to right. And then he did it twice Tuesday night off Cubs starter Marcus Stroman, lofting an inside sinker 384 feet down the right field line in the second inning, then driving a cutter 373 feet over the wall in the fourth for a three-run blast.

“Obviously, I want to hit homers and I want to be better with my offense,” he said. “But I’ve just got to control what I can control and keep working hard every day.”

Ruiz became only the fifth catcher in Nationals history with a multi-homer game, joining the likes of Wilson Ramos (who did it four times), Yan Gomes, Matt Wieters and the long-forgotten Brandon Harper, whose only two major league homers during an 18-game stint both came Aug. 20, 2006 at Philadelphia.

The Nats have every reason to believe this won’t be the last time Ruiz does it. He did hit 21 homers in 316 minor league plate appearances last season, plus three more in 96 big league plate appearances.

Perhaps this was the first indication there’s more to come from the 24-year-old catcher.

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