Ruiz, Rooker finish strong, cap 2023 with milestones

Speedster sets AL rookie record with 67th SB while slugger reaches 30-homer plateau

October 1st, 2023

OAKLAND – Entering the final week of the regular season, and were within grasp of individual milestones. On the last day of the regular season, both managed to reach those achievements.

Ruiz raced his way into the record books in Sunday afternoon’s 7-3 season-finale loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium. The A’s outfielder eclipsed Kenny Lofton’s American League rookie record for stolen bases by swiping his AL-leading 67th bag in the third inning. Playing his 132nd game of the season, Ruiz topped Lofton’s record of 66 with Cleveland, a high mark that had stood since 1992.

“It’s history,” Ruiz said in Spanish. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this. I’m going to keep giving the best of myself, because there are many more great things coming the rest of my career.”

The introduction of bigger bases and limits on pickoffs in 2023 encouraged more stolen-base attempts around the league, and Ruiz has taken full advantage. The speedster, whose 29.7 average sprint speed this season is tied for eighth fastest in MLB, led all players in the Majors with 15 multi-stolen base games. Arizona’s Corbin Carroll and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. were tied for second with 12.

A’s manager Mark Kotsay pointed out Ruiz’s daily routine as a factor. About three hours before every game, Ruiz grabs the iPad that sits at his locker inside the clubhouse and engulfs himself in film study, analyzing tendencies of the opposing team’s pitchers.

“I know how hard he’s worked,” Kotsay said. “He’s relentless in his preparation. The reward is that now he’s the all-time AL rookie leader for stolen bases.”

Ruiz finishes the year leading all Major League rookies in stolen bases and holds the A’s rookie record, having previously surpassed Mitchell Page’s mark of 42 (1977) back in July. In the history of the franchise, Ruiz is also just the fifth A’s player to steal 60 bases in a season.

"He’s stealing 100 bags if he’s healthy next year,” Rooker said of Ruiz. “He’s an electric player. … I got to play with him last year [in the Minor Leagues], and it’s crazy how it didn’t change. A lot of things get harder when you get to the big leagues, but it didn’t seem like it really got harder for him to steal bases.”

Rooker chased down his goal of 30 home runs for the first time as a big leaguer in dramatic fashion. Facing Angels reliever José Suarez in the eighth inning in his final at-bat of the season, Rooker pounced on a first-pitch fastball for a homer that just cleared the wall in left-center.

“It’s funny how standards change,” said Rooker, now the 24th player in Oakland history to reach 30 homers, and the first since Matt Olson in 2021. “When I came into September with 22 [home runs], I was looking to get 25. Then I got to 25 and got hot and hit four more and was like, ‘What’s the point of hitting those four more if I’m not going to get the last one?’ It’s gratifying.”

Much like Ruiz, whom the A’s acquired this offseason in the Sean Murphy deal, Rooker will go down as one of the team’s more encouraging discoveries in this rebuilding campaign.

Claimed off waivers from Kansas City last November, Rooker did not learn he’d made the club until finding out from Kotsay the day before the regular season. He went on to earn his first career All-Star appearance and has established himself as a mainstay in the middle of Oakland’s lineup.

“It’s surreal,” Rooker said. “You want to say the confidence that you can do it stays with you all the time, but that’s not practical. You start to doubt yourself. … But there’s always that little belief in the back of your head that says, ‘No. If I get a shot, I think I can be a very productive player.’ I got that opportunity this year, and I was thankful to be able to take advantage of it.”

In a year that saw the A’s set an Oakland record with 112 losses, hope lies within the players that have been identified as future key pieces, such as Ruiz and Rooker, as well as a youth movement that took place shortly after the second half headlined by rookie standout Zack Gelof and top prospects like Tyler Soderstrom, Lawrence Butler and Mason Miller.

“I looked out on that field today and I think the oldest guy on the field was 25 years old,” Kotsay said. “It’s a collection of youth. They’ve got their feet wet now. They know what the big leagues are like, and the work it takes to be successful. Now they’ve got to come together and believe they can win.”