Ruiz cleared, but not in lineup after getting hit in face

Keibert Ruiz passed concussion tests and has been cleared to play, but the rookie Nationals catcher is not in the lineup for today’s series finale in Pittsburgh.

Ruiz, who was struck near his right ear by a pitch from Pirates reliever Kyle Keller during Saturday night’s game, remains sore, but is allowed to play if needed.

“He’s clear,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “I talked to him this morning. He’s a bit sore. He’s going to go through his routine later on. He’s got an ice pack on his face right now. But he says he feels fine.”

The scary incident occurred in the top of the sixth of Saturday’s 10-7 loss at PNC Park. Ruiz, batting left-handed, couldn’t get out of the way of Keller’s high-and-tight fastball. The ball appeared to catch at least some of his helmet’s ear flap, perhaps helping to absorb the impact.

Ruiz-Checked-by-Lessard-After-HBP-Sidebar.jpgRuiz never dropped to the ground, instead walking away a bit dazed while clutching the right side of his face. Nationals director of athletic training Paul Lessard checked him for any possible facial or jaw fractures and for initial concussion signs. Ruiz then retreated to the dugout and the visitors’ clubhouse under his own power while fellow catcher Riley Adams took over for him as a pinch-runner.

X-rays taken after the game came back negative for any fractures.

Ruiz likely wouldn’t have started today’s series finale anyway, given the quick turnaround from Saturday’s night game. But with Adams having caught all of Friday’s game before finishing out Saturday’s game, it’s veteran Alex Avila behind the plate this afternoon to work with left-hander Patrick Corbin.

Whether Ruiz is ready to return in time for Monday’s homestand opener against the Marlins remains to be seen, but Martinez wants to get him back in the lineup as soon as he’s ready, for both physical and mental reasons.

“He understands the game. I mean, he’s a catcher,” the manager said. “But I told him: ‘We’ve got to get you back in there and be ready to hit.’ I’m not going to assume anything. He’s a tough kid and he’s going to go in there and battle. But usually the first at-bat after getting hit like that, it’s pretty scary. Anything that comes in, you kind of want to jump out of the way. But he understands the game, he knows he’s got to stay in there.”

The plunking capped what turned into Ruiz’s most eventful game since the Nationals called him up two weeks ago. He delivered his first extra-base hit for the team with a three-run double in the top of the fourth. He also was charged with an error on an errant pickoff throw to second base, and he was charged with illegally blocking the plate before tagging Yoshi Tsutsugo in the bottom of the third.

The coaching staff, including former catcher Henry Blanco, discussed that plate with Ruiz afterward, explaining why he couldn’t position himself where he did to receive Juan Soto’s throw from right field.

“He stood behind the plate,” Martinez said. “We’re not sure why he did it. I know Henry is going to talk to him again today. I don’t know if he’s been taught that, if that’s the way they received the ball in L.A. But we teach getting in front of the plate on a line to receive the ball a lot earlier, so he can make the tag.

“I talked to him yesterday, I just told him that he needs to get in front of the plate in a situation like that. To him, he thought he caught the ball early enough that it really didn’t matter. But I told him you have to give the runner a lane, no matter what. He understood, so hopefully the next time it happens, he’s in front of the plate.”

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