It always felt like it was only a matter of time. Keibert Ruiz’s track record in the minor leagues, not to mention his approach in his first extended stint in the major leagues, suggested the hits were going to start falling in. And once those did, the power would likely follow soon thereafter.
So consider what is now happening vindication for anyone with the Nationals who didn’t panic when their young catcher got off to such an underwhelming start with the club earlier this month. There’s nothing to worry about anymore, not with Ruiz having found his hitting stroke and on Friday night finding his power stroke as well.
With a 3-for-5 night in the Nationals’ 8-7, 11-inning loss to the Reds, Ruiz raised his batting average to .302 in 17 games with the club that made him the centerpiece of their blockbuster Max Scherzer-Trea Turner trade two months ago. And with a solo homer to right in the top of the second, he finally got his first opportunity to circle the bases.
“It feels good to hit the first one and get that one out of the way,” he said in a postgame Zoom session with reporters. “I’ve got to keep working, keep having my approach at the plate, keep looking for my pitch. And hopefully, I can have some more coming.”
The way he’s swinging the bat these days, there’s every reason to believe more are coming. After going 4-for-33 in his first 10 games with the Nats, Ruiz is now 15-for-30 over his last seven. He has two doubles to go along with Friday night’s homer, plus eight RBIs during this stretch.
“He’s staying behind the ball a lot better,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s having a lot more consistent at-bats, at-bats where he’s seeing the ball a lot better, getting back early and really exploding with his hands. To see him hit that ball the way he did like that, it was short, compact. It was a good swing.”
The Nationals have raved all along about Ruiz’s bat-to-ball skills, and they have been evident through his time with them, even when he wasn’t recording hits. He has struck out only four times in 67 plate appearances, only once in his last 47. And though it took a little while for the hits to start falling, Ruiz’s hitting process seemed to suggest all along it was only a matter of time before it happened.
“I’m not trying to do too much,” he said. “Before, I was jumping a little bit, swinging on everything. Right now, I’m trying to focus on just swinging at my pitch until I get to two strikes. That’s what I can control.”
* Carter Kieboom was scratched from Friday night’s lineup after his left forearm acted up during pregame workouts. The young third baseman was hit by a pitch there Monday in Miami, and though he played through it for most of the week, it appears to have hampered him enough to require at least one night off.
Martinez said Kieboom will get an MRI of the forearm this morning, after which the Nationals will decide how to proceed. If Kieboom is unable to play, the club has only one other potential fill-in on the current roster in Jordy Mercer, who started Friday at third base.