As some of the young players on the Orioles are finding their way through this season, the mental part of the game can be a challenge. The physical demands are surely there too, and trying to hit 95 mph fastballs and tough breaking balls nightly is no picnic. But coping with the ups and downs of the season - both as individuals and as a team - presents its own challenges.
Trying to stay upbeat and keep the energy level up on a team that joins Kansas City with the worst record in the majors is not easy.
O’s third baseman Rio Ruiz is one of those young players trying to show he can play in the majors and be part of the O’s future. He said the team has done a great job of staying positive.
“There is not a person in here that has negative thoughts,” said Ruiz, who is batting .235/.308/.332 in 60 games. “We all come to the field believing we are going to win. That is the right mindset.
“We want to win. A lot of the games that we end up losing late, we’re in it the entire game. Yesterday we got down early and were resilient enough to fight back. Soon enough, some things will go our way.”
I asked Ruiz what a player can learn while getting his first real chance to play a lot at the major league level.
“Kind of not to be so hard on yourself,” he said. “Because the harder you are on yourself, the more you want to work and try harder, and that can lead to a negative thought process. So, you have to take the good days with the bad and learn from both. As long as you have the right mindset, you’ll be all right.
“This is the big leagues, and you want to impress everybody. But sometimes you have to take a step back and relax. We’ve been at it since the middle of February. Then you go through September, take a couple of weeks off and get right back at it. It’s a year-long process, and if you beat yourself up it will be hard to last long.”
Manager Brandon Hyde has praised Ruiz throughout the season for his defense, work ethic, plate discipline and all-fields approach. Recently, Ruiz has been trying to produce with fewer starts. Hanser Alberto’s emergence as a solid hitter has taken some starts away from infielders, including Ruiz. While he started 83 percent of the games through April, Ruiz has been a starter in about 67 percent since.
“I’ve been through it before, so it’s nothing new to me,” he said. “Just have to be ready when my name is called. I don’t change anything I do pregame, whether I am playing or not.”
And that includes bringing a solid glove and arm to third base. Ruiz ranks first among American League third baseman in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and third in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), according to Fangraphs.
“On a given day, your offense may not be there but your defense has to be there. And vice versa sometimes,” Ruiz said. “I work hard on my defense, that’s it. Get the reps, and the more reps you get the better you will be.”