Rio Ruiz hit his fourth home run of the season last night, tying him with Anthony Santander for second-most on the team. Ruiz leads the Orioles in average exit velocity at 90.3 mph, according to Statcast data. But is he most proud of his work at the plate or third base? Where is he making the greatest contribution?
“That’s a tough one,” he said.
Of course it is.
Ruiz had a sore shoulder that removed him from the lineup and exposed the Orioles at the position. His range, hands and consistency vault him over anyone else who’s been used as a substitute.
“I’d say defense,” Ruiz said after pondering the question earlier today in his Zoom conference call.
“I take tremendous pride in my defense. I have over the course of the past four or five years of my career. Coming up and drafted as a young player I didn’t think defense was too big of an aspect of the game and that was kind of the wrong way to think. I kind of got kicked in the butt later in my career and was told to take my defense a little seriously. And I started then.”
A game could have been lost last night with Miguel Castro allowing a run and desperate to get the last out in the eighth inning. The Orioles were clinging to a 5-4 lead when Ruiz lunged to his left, gathered Andrew McCutchen’s ground ball and made a shovel toss to Hanser Alberto for the force.
One of the prettiest three-hop tosses in recent memory.
“That was a great play,” manager Brandon Hyde said afterward. “I still haven’t seen a replay of it. I’m looking forward to looking at it. But not only that, but just the double play turns. Made a really nice play last night on an angle to his right.
“He’s just reading the ball really well and his feet are great. He’s just playing outstanding defense at third base. That play that he made in the hole is a big stop against McCutchen, that was game-saving. Really won us the game.”
Ruiz has made smoother stops at third, but few that can top last night’s gem, which bailed out Castro one night after the reliever surrendered two home runs and a lead.
“I was talking to my wife about it last night and I think that’s one of my favorite ones, just given the situation we were in, the team we were playing,” Ruiz said.
“That’s a stacked squad, man. Phillies got a squad and whenever you’re able to get an out and make pitches like Miggy was doing ... That was a big outing for Miggy coming back from two nights ago to last night, just making a quality pitch and trusting his defense to make a play for him.”
The 2020 season has been a stark contract to Ruiz’s previous summer, which included an unexpected demotion to Triple-A Norfolk. He’s made some adjustments to his stance and added muscle to his frame.
The benefits are evident to him and anyone who’s paying attention.
“I guess you would say the more consistent I am with barreling balls and the positions I’m in,” he said. “Obviously, I want to continue that, so just continue the body of work that I’ve had throughout the offseason and the shutdown and even throughout the course of the season. Look to continue that obviously and hopeful that the results will stay there.”
The hair isn’t going anywhere.
Ruiz is gaining as much attention for his flowing locks, which wife Michelle is grooming.
At least part of them.
“During this whole coronavirus thing, I’m not going to a barber shop, so my wife is actually the one who cuts the side. Just buzzes the sides and that’s the haircut,” he said, amused by the topic.
“I haven’t touched the top, I haven’t touched the back. I guess you can consider it a classy mohawk. I wasn’t really going for a mullet look, but it’s kind of turned into that. But I really started with the mohawk and it’s kind of turned into what it is.”
Chris Davis is out of today’s lineup despite being 3-for-7 lifetime against Jake Arrieta, the most at-bats from anyone on the team. Davis is 6-for-40 this season with three doubles, three walks and 12 strikeouts.
“I don’t put much stock in seven at-bats over a career,” Hyde said during today’s Zoom conference call.
“I wanted to keep Iggy’s bat in the lineup and didn’t want to play him at shortstop today, and obviously want to keep Noonie’s bat in the lineup, also.”
Davis has committed fielding errors the past two nights, failing Tuesday to get in front of a ball near the line and whiffing on it.
“I thought last night’s play was kind of tough, a hard line drive that handcuffed him a little bit, a plus runner that beat him to the bag,” Hyde said. “I didn’t think that was an easy play. I think the play the night before is a play that C.D. would admit makes that play 99 out of 100 times.
“I think he’s been engaged defensively. I don’t think that’s a trend. I think he’s still a good defender and he helps us out defensively.”
Núñez is improving at the position, but Hyde doesn’t put him in Davis’ defensive class.
“I think C.D.’s still an above-average first baseman in this league,” Hyde said. “Noonie’s learning the position, but C.D.’s played there for a long time. He’s got a lot more experience.”
Hyde doesn’t have a set pitching plan for Friday’s resumed game against the Nationals. He’s obviously going to use a reliever but must get through tonight’s game and check on availability.
“It will be a bullpen arm. We’re in the sixth,” he said.
Keegan Akin still hasn’t been used since the Orioles recalled him last weekend from the secondary camp in Bowie. He’s viewed as a starter, but altering his routine in order to stay available in long relief.
“I wanted to try to get him in the correct situation, try to take care of him the best I possibly could,” Hyde said. “It hasn’t happened yet and we’ve been playing well, we’ve had the lead and I’ve wanted to use other people right now. This is the big leagues and we’re trying to win games and so when I feel like it’s his time to pitch, that will be the time. But right now his routine is different in that he’s not slotted in a starting spot. He’s going to pitch out of the ‘pen for us and I’m sure his time will be coming soon.”