With Nats debut done, Ruiz ready to improve

August 31st, 2021

WASHINGTON -- woke up Monday morning around six o’clock. He had slept well, and he was excited: the next chapter in his promising baseball career was about to begin. 

The 23-year-old catcher made his debut with the Nats in the 7-4 series-opening loss to the Phillies at Nationals Park. Ruiz, ranked as Washington’s No. 1 prospect and the No. 19 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, went 1-for-4 with a bloop single to center field, two popouts to shortstop and a lineout to left field while batting sixth.

“He handled himself well,” manager Dave Martinez said.

Ruiz’s first time behind the plate had been highly anticipated ever since he was acquired as a centerpiece of the blockbuster deal that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline. Upon his callup, he was appointed the role of the Nats’ new everyday starting catcher. Riley Adams will back him up. 

“It feels good. I feel proud of myself,” Ruiz said pregame of the trade. “If they do that, it's because they see something in me. But like I say, I'm not trying to put pressure on myself, just trying to keep getting better, keep playing my game, just do what I have to do to have good results."

Ruiz’s first catching assignment: starting right-hander , the Nats’ No. 3 prospect -- and the other headliner in the Dodgers' trade. Gray was struck by the visual of the moment he and Ruiz exited the bullpen together, this time with curly W’s on their uniforms.

“We were walking side by side, and I thought that was a nice shot,” Gray said. “Former Dodgers teammates and now Nationals teammates, I thought that was awesome just to see where we were about a month ago or even last year at the [alternate training] site. It’s just pretty cool.”

Gray tossed four innings while allowing six runs on seven hits (one home run) and three walks and striking out four over 83 pitches. He struggled early with rhythm and command, later finding his pace around the third frame.

“We’re just going to continue to get on the same page, just like I did with Tres [Barrera] and Riley Adams,” Gray said of pitching to Ruiz. “It’s going to be a work in progress, just like every other pitcher here. But that’s part of the process.”

At the plate, Ruiz noticed he was chasing up-and-in during early at-bats. Even though he did not get on base until the eighth inning, he is not being rushed to slug. In fact, Martinez is emphasizing consistency, staying up the middle of the field and taking walks with the switch-hitter. Ruiz slashed .308/.365/.577 with five home runs, six doubles, 14 RBIs and only six strikeouts in 20 games with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, achieving success by identifying good pitches and avoiding early weak contact. He also had eight games of big league experience with the Dodgers since making his Major League debut last season.

“He’ll get an opportunity tomorrow,” Martinez said. “I’m glad he’s got that first one out of the way now. It seems like young guys like that when they come to a new team or they’re in the big leagues [for the first time] … It’s a different feeling. Once you get that first hit, you kind of settle in a little bit and you relax a little bit better. I’m expecting him to come out tomorrow and compete.”

In addition to the support of the Nationals’ home crowd, Ruiz also was cheered on by his wife and baby. He credited their presence at his Triple-A games as a key to his success this season, and knowing they were in the stands at Nats Park for his debut helped, too. 

“I enjoyed it a lot,” Ruiz said. “I was happy they can see me play here in the big leagues. I’m looking forward to keep getting better, keep knowing all the guys here, all the pitchers and trying to win some ballgames.”