Rio Ruiz: “This organization is in a great spot”

Did Orioles third baseman Rio Ruiz hit in some tough luck last year during the shortened 2020 season?

A case could be made that he did. He batted .222/.286/.427 with 11 doubles, nine homers, 32 RBIs (tied for the team lead) and an OPS of .713 in 54 games. His OPS+ was 93, 7 percent short of league average.

But Ruiz led the Orioles with 54 hard-hit balls, according to Statcast. Those are balls put in play at 95 mph or more. However, he ranked just 14th on the team in batting average on balls in play at .244. Typically the major league average of BABIP is around .300. Among O’s who had strong years in 2020, José Iglesias posted a .407 BABIP and Ryan Mountcastle was at .398.

But Ruiz had a season of some big swings on the stat sheet. He hit .300 in July in 21 plate appearances, which included homers in three of the season’s first four games. But he then batted just .165 in August in 92 plate appearances before ending the year hitting .256 in 91 September plate appearances.

For the year, he had reserve splits, batting .289 with an OPS of .781 versus left-handed pitching and hitting .204/.695 versus right-handers. For his career, Ruiz has posted above-average numbers against lefties with an OPS of .759 and is below-average against right-handers at .649.

Rio-Ruiz-Swings-Black-Away-Sidebar.jpg“You know, obviously, when you get home, you reflect on the whole season, the ups and downs,” Ruiz said this afternoon during a Zoom interview. “You know, I ran into some tough luck. I was still hitting the ball real hard, I just wasn’t finding any hits. And that is kind of just the way it goes, but overall I thought I did pretty well throughout the season.

“Confidence is everything. It’s OK to be a little arrogant when you are on the field. I think you have to be. I think that’s half the battle in the big leagues because everyone is so dang good, man. If you have any self-doubt, it’s going to creep in, no doubt about it, through a 162-game schedule. Confidence is everything and I’ll do everything I can to keep that level of confidence throughout the year.”

Ruiz, manager Brandon Hyde said recently in so many words, has the edge to win the third base job. But there are plenty in camp who could make a push for his spot.

What was the offseason like for the now third-year Oriole?

“Just continue to grow. If you take the good and bad from the year before, you throw that out the window and start a new slate,” Ruiz said. “You know, the sky is the limit for anybody, myself included in that.”

Meanwhile, the Orioles’ Trey Mancini said he feels great in camp and was excited to be back with the team during an interview this afternoon. To say the least, Mancini’s return is big in the Baltimore clubhouse.

“That’s everything man,” Ruiz said. “I can’t remember a bigger hug I gave somebody than seeing him for the first time the other day. You commend everything that he’s done. You can’t even imagine what he’s been through. You know, he’s back here and hasn’t had any complaints. He’s one of those guys you are around and there is good energy that he exudes. Definitely a presence that we missed throughout the clubhouse.”

You could say that Ruiz has been on the ground floor with the Orioles and their rebuilding efforts. He was one of the first players acquired by new general manager Mike Elias when he added him off waivers from Atlanta at the 2018 Winter Meetings.

Ruiz has been here for the club that played .333 ball, going 54-108 in 2019, and for a team that played .417 ball, going 25-35 last year. So where does he see the rebuilding at this point?

“I’d say just watch. I think you guys are going to see a lot of people from year one to year two and now year two to year three, it’s going to be really special to see how much better guys have gotten over the course of the three years here,” he said. “And it’s just going to continue. This organization is in a great spot. Has great people. A great vibe in the clubhouse and you can see that on the field for sure.”

Ruiz has made one key change for the 2021 season. There will be no mohawk.

“It’s gone. I don’t think that is coming back,” he said. “When your kid is pulling your hair, it’s pretty easy to get rid of it.”

Here is a great sight. Mancini looks and sounds great, and is ready for the new season.

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