Another home run hitter rolled off the Dodgers’ assembly line and into the lineup on Sunday.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Ruiz, who homered on a 1-1 pitch from Angels starter Julio Teheran leading off the third inning. It was the seventh time a Dodger had homered in his first career at-bat and first time since Garey Ingram in 1994.
Dugout ribbing about how “baseball's easy” could barely wait until Ruiz finished his first home run trot.
“They also said it’s downhill from here,” said manager Dave Roberts. “The irony is that the hitting guys have really been working with Keibert on getting backspin from the pull side, and that’s exactly what he did and he’ll have the memory forever.”
Ruiz is the youngest catcher to start a game for the Dodgers since Dioner Navarro (21) in 2005. In five seasons in the Dodgers farm system, Ruiz is a career .299 hitter, but with only 29 homers through five different levels. Last season, he split his time between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, batting a combined .261 with six homers and 34 RBIs.
The Dodgers, though, know how to teach power-hitting. Smith hit only 11 home runs in 2016 and ‘17 in the Minor Leagues, but erupted for 35 between Triple-A and the Majors last year. Muncy hit 12 home runs in 2017 at Triple-A, then had back-to-back 35-homer seasons with the Dodgers.
While working at the alternate training site, Ruiz cleaned up his batting mechanics and can see the added power results.
“I’ve been working on my lower half. I was jumping a little bit,” said Ruiz, who reported late to Summer Camp. “I would like to be [a power hitter]. I just have to keep working and get better every day.”
In the stands watching was Travis Barbary, a former Dodgers farmhand, career staffer, current Triple-A manager and life coach to Ruiz in his acclimation from Venezuela. Barbary had Ruiz move in with him, his wife and four kids at their South Carolina home, taking him under his wing and mentoring him on and off the field -- everything from catching skills to learning English watching movies.
“I am very grateful to him and his family and it’s very exciting, I saw him today at the stadium,” said Ruiz. “He’s like my dad and I’m very grateful.”
May couldn’t get through five innings despite pitching with a six-run lead, but he was excited for his fellow rookie.
“People just want to get a hit up there in their first AB, let alone a home run,” May said. “It was phenomenal.”