Ruiz's slump characterized by rare string of strikeouts

PHOENIX – Keibert Ruiz has dealt with slumps before. That’s not new. But he hasn’t dealt with one in which the simple act of making contact has become such a challenge.

Nobody on the Nationals roster, and hardly anyone in the majors, is better at putting the bat on the ball than Ruiz, whose 95 percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone is among the best in the sport.

So when he struck out in his first three at-bats during Friday night’s 3-1 loss to the Diamondbacks, it was notable and unusual. This was only the third time in Ruiz’s career he struck out thrice in one game. And when you add his final at-bat Thursday against the Cubs, he actually endured through a streak of four consecutive plate appearances with a strikeout.

“I just don’t feel like I was feeling like I was a couple days ago,” he said. “I’m not using my legs, not using the same approach. I need to go back to keeping it simple and not try to do too much.”

Ruiz was hardly alone in struggling against Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly, who struck out 10 over seven dominant innings. But his struggles were the least characteristic, given his usual ability to make contact.

“He chased a little bit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But Kelly kept him off-balance all night. He took some balls that were close; they were strikes. And then he gets into swing mode and chased a couple balls out of the zone. But when a guy’s around the plate like that, you’ve got to be ready to hit.”

Ruiz had been on a tear at the plate. Over a 13-game stretch, he hit .346 with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs. Most notably, he struck out only once in 56 plate appearances.

This week, though, has not been kind to Ruiz. He’s now hitless in his last 16 at-bats, a stretch during which his batting average has plummeted from .281 to .238.

What changed? Ruiz wonders if some bad luck he endured to begin the week – several line drive outs – had a particularly negative effect on him from a mental standpoint.

“I’ve been feeling really good,” he said. “I’ve been having good contact, and they catch it. My confidence goes down, and I try to do different things. I’ve just got to go back to normal and keep it simple.”

Ruiz, for what it’s worth, has batted third in Martinez’s lineup each of the last three days. Perhaps that kind of added pressure hasn’t been good for him and could prompt Martinez to bump him down a few spots in the order the rest of the weekend.

For his part, Ruiz continues to welcome any challenges that come his way, whether in good times or bad times.

“That’s part of the game,” he said. “This game is tough, and I’m not going to put my head down. I’m going to keep my head up and keep getting better.”

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