Rooker, Ruiz seizing the moment amid A's tough start

Rooker 2nd in AL after mashing 8th HR, as Ruiz ties Rickey with April steals

April 29th, 2023

OAKLAND -- Going through the second year of a rebuild, the A’s are looking to identify which players can make an impact beyond 2023. One month into that process, and  continue to stand out as potential key pieces of their future.

Both continued their breakout campaigns in Friday’s 11-7 series-opening loss to the Reds at the Coliseum. Rooker slugged his eighth home run of the year and reached base in all five of his plate appearances, while Ruiz swiped his 11th bag of the month, becoming the first A’s player to steal 11 bases in April since none other than  did so in 1990.

The superlatives to describe the tear Rooker has been on are running thin. Launching a two-run blast in the ninth just one day after becoming the first hitter to homer off Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani this season, Rooker’s eight home runs trail only Red Sox star Rafael Devers (9) for most in the American League. Over his last 17 games, the left fielder/designated hitter is now 21-for-55 (.382) with eight homers, 20 RBIs and 13 walks.

“I just feel comfortable,” Rooker said. “I’m having good approaches and seeing pitches. When I get pitches to handle, I’m putting good swings on them.”

With limited big league opportunities since being drafted as a first-round pick in 2017, Rooker is catching the rest of the baseball world by surprise with his eye-popping offensive numbers. Those who watched him dominate the Minors with a .909 OPS and 102 homers over the past five seasons, however, are not exactly shocked by what is transpiring.

“I played with Rook a long time ago,” said A’s first baseman , who belted a two-run homer in the seventh. “I know what he can do. He knows what he can do. We all see it now. I just hope he can keep it going. You always want to see your teammates succeed and achieve things that they’re reaching for. He’s on pace to keep it going.”

Equally as impressive as Rooker’s power has been Ruiz’s 80-grade speed that is being unleashed. Leading off the bottom of the seventh with a single and racing over to second on a misplay in center, Ruiz wasted little time by breaking for third and easily swiping it on the very next pitch before scoring on Noda’s homer.

Ruiz may not quite reach the all-time record for stolen bases in April -- a milestone owned by Henderson with 22 in 1982 -- but the electric rookie is certainly bringing excitement to the field on a daily basis.

“He’s chasing one of the greatest stolen-base men in the game,” manager Mark Kotsay said of Ruiz. “Another stolen base tonight, so he needs to get on a couple more times.”

It’s fitting that Ruiz and Rooker are standing out in tandem. The two were teammates in the Padres organization in 2022, playing together both for Triple-A El Paso and even a couple of games with San Diego. Seemingly blocked at their respective positions in the Majors last season, both have a clear path at everyday playing time for the first time in their careers -- and so far, both are taking advantage.

“I got the privilege of watching him last year, so I knew what to expect going into this season,” Rooker said. “Every time he got on first base last year, he was on third base within two pitches. It was just amazing to see. Everybody knew he was running. Every pitcher did a sidestep or threw a fastball up, but it just didn’t matter. Nobody can throw him out. 

“It’s impressive to watch the combination of sheer speed and baserunning awareness," added Rooker. "His instincts to steal bases, it’s fun to watch.”

Rooker and Ruiz were part of an encouraging seven-run, 11-hit performance by the A’s, but the offensive outburst was mitigated by several defensive miscues. Miscommunication by Tony Kemp and Kevin Smith on a fly ball in the second and two errors at third base by Jace Peterson in the third led to Cincinnati plating five runs over those two innings. 

 “Defensively, we haven’t been great,” Kotsay said before the game. “I said coming out of [Spring Training] that a focus was going to be that we took care of the baseball. This last road trip, we didn’t take care of the baseball. We’re out here working early. We’re not going to stop working.”