Ruiz's 30th SB sparks A's: 'Just let him keep running'

June 10th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- has a long way to go before matching the prolificacy of legendary speedster Rickey Henderson on the basepaths. But given his performance so far in his first season with the A’s, it’s hard not to draw parallels to MLB’s all-time stolen base leader.

Ruiz once again electrified Oakland’s offense in Friday’s 5-2 victory over Milwaukee at American Family Field. The center fielder ignited a three-run first inning by leading off with a single and swiping second base just five pitches later -- bringing his Major League-leading total to 30 stolen bases.

The introduction of bigger bases and limits on pickoffs have encouraged more stolen-base attempts in 2023, and no player has taken advantage of the new rules more than Ruiz. He became the first player to reach 30 stolen bases through his team’s first 65 games since Billy Hamilton with the Reds in 2015 and only the eighth player to hit the 30-mark in 65 games since ‘00.

Ruiz’s 30 steals in the first 65 games of the season are the most by an A’s player since -- you guessed it -- Henderson, who had 32 through 65 games in 1990. In franchise history, Ruiz became just the seventh player to accumulate 30 swiped bags in 65 games, joining A’s legends Henderson (who did it four times), Bert Campaneris (‘69) and Eddie Collins (‘10).

“It’s been great to have him at the top of the order,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “He continues to do the things we’ve asked him to do, which is, ‘be aggressive on the bases, and go steal as many bases as you can.’”

An example of Ruiz’s ability to wreak havoc on opposing teams showed in the second.

After reaching first on an RBI single, Ruiz constantly distracted Brewers starting pitcher Adrian Houser with his movements off the bag. At one point, Ruiz faked a steal attempt that led to catcher William Contreras spiking a ball in the dirt as he hastily fired a panicked throw to second base following a pitch to Ryan Noda.

“From pitchers to catchers, he’s disruptive,” Kotsay said of Ruiz. “As you saw with Contreras, that tells you he knows how fast [Ruiz] is. He knows how quick he has to be to get that baseball down to second base.”

Ruiz’s 80-grade speed is an obvious standout trait. However, it is only part of what makes his presence in the A’s lineup so important. There’s also the clutch factor.

Driving home Shea Langeliers from third on his single in the second, Ruiz is now batting .400 (24-for-60) with runners in scoring position, a mark which ranks fifth-highest among American League hitters. The list of players ahead of him features some early-season MVP candidates: Jonah Heim, Marcus Semien, Cedric Mullins and Yordan Alvarez.

“He’s huge,” Noda said of Ruiz. “He helps everybody out, especially myself. When he gets to third, pitchers don’t want to make a mistake, so it helps me out with my approach. I love when he hits in front of me, because I know he’s going to be on second most of the time if he gets a single. Just let him keep running.”

Like any rookie, Ruiz is not immune to slumps. Entering the night, he was 4-for-23 through the first six games of Oakland’s current nine-game road trip. His two-hit effort on Friday was a reminder of the excitement he’s capable of producing. He’s on pace for 74 stolen bases, which would shatter not only last year’s Major League-best mark of 41 by Jon Berti but also the AL rookie single-season record of 66, set by Kenny Lofton in 1992. It would be the most in a single season since José Reyes swiped 78 bags in 2007.

Now having won three games in a row for the first time in 2023, these rebuilding A’s are riding off the good vibes that Ruiz brings on a daily basis.

“Ruiz is a good ballplayer,” said rookie right-hander , who tossed five innings behind opener Sam Moll and earned his first Major League win after limiting Milwaukee to two runs on three hits and three walks with six strikeouts. “He keeps us motivated. He’s always active. He’s a great athlete, a great teammate in the clubhouse. He’s got a great heart. He’s always worked hard and stayed concentrated on his approach, and now he’s seeing the results."