Ruiz saving biggest homers for biggest moments

CJ Abrams has been better lately. Lane Thomas has been better over the course of the entire season. Joey Meneses has been better with runners in scoring position. But there may be nobody the Nationals would rather see at the plate in a big spot late in a close game right now than Keibert Ruiz.

The proof is there for everyone to see, and it was again Wednesday night, when Ruiz launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to give the Nats the lead for good en route to a 6-2 win over the Red Sox.

This only four days after Ruiz hit the first walk-off homer of his career, beating the Athletics on Saturday night. Which only continued a longstanding trend for the young catcher of delivering big home runs in big spots.

Ruiz has now hit 15 homers for the season. Ten of those have come in the seventh inning or later. And four of those have either given the Nationals the lead or tied the game.

“I honestly think he’s more engaged, as far as getting the ball in the zone. And attacking the baseball,” manager Davey Martinez said of Ruiz’s approach in those late innings. “He’s been awesome. He’s knocked in some big runs for us.”

That much has been evident to anyone who has paid attention. Ruiz has a real flair for the dramatic, saving his biggest blasts for the biggest moments.

How has been able to do that in these situations of consequence?

“I feel like I’m just not trying to do too much,” he said. “I’m being more patient, waiting for my pitch until I get to two strikes. And I’m having good results. I just have to keep it going.”

Ruiz’s gift and curse is his ability to make contact on just about any pitch thrown in the vicinity of the strike zone. Sometimes he uses that to his benefit, avoiding strikeouts and poking singles to the opposite field on pitches beyond the outer edge of the plate. But at times he has been too swing-happy, grounding into killer double plays early in an at-bat, making contact on a pitch that would have been called a ball had he just let it go by.

Ruiz has shown real progress in that department over the last month. In 27 games since the All-Star break, he’s not only batting .333, but he’s reaching base at a healthy .395 clip, having drawn 11 walks.

Now add his 12 extra-base hits during that time, and Ruiz is slugging .569 since mid-July, leaving him with a .964 OPS.

“He’s been awesome,” Martinez said. “He’s getting the ball in the strike zone. When he does that, he’s hitting the ball really hard. He’s got great bat-to-ball skills, but he’s got to focus on getting the ball in the zone. When he does that, the ball comes off his bat really hot.”

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