Ruiz's all-around talent helps A's start season off right

March 31st, 2023

OAKLAND -- A big reason why the A’s were willing to part ways with an elite young catcher in Sean Murphy this offseason was the opportunity to acquire . One game into the season, it’s easy to see why he was so coveted.

On a night that began with two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani garnering the pregame hype, it was Ruiz, Oakland’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who electrified the Coliseum with a dazzling display on both sides of the ball in the A’s 2-1 Opening Day victory over the Angels on Thursday.

First came the defense. Breaking to his left on a ball struck 107.9 mph off the bat of Mike Trout in the first inning, Ruiz laid out in right-center for a brilliant diving catch to rob the three-time MVP of potential extra bases. The stellar play came much to the delight of A’s starting pitcher , who pumped his fist in appreciation of the effort by his center fielder.

“Man, that was great,” said Muller, who tossed five innings of one-run ball in what was his first career Opening Day nod. “I thought I had punched [Trout] out on the pitch before that. He hit it pretty hard and I thought that was in the gap. [Ruiz] is great out there.”

A quick look at the Statcast info will show that Ruiz really had no business making such a grab. Trout’s ball traveled 311 feet with an expected batting average of .930. It required a herculean effort from Ruiz, who showed off his 80-grade speed by covering 51 feet in 3.3 seconds. At a catch probability of only 15 percent, Ruiz’s gem qualifies as a five-star catch.

As a former center fielder, A’s manager Mark Kotsay has a true understanding of the degree of difficulty on that catch.

“With Mike hitting the ball, I don’t know the exact exit velo, but the ball did stay up in the air,” Kotsay said. “[Ruiz] read it well. He took a good route at it and it was a great catch.”

Off the bat, Kotsay said he didn’t think Ruiz had a shot at hauling it in. Ruiz, however, felt differently.

“Almost every time the ball is hit my way,” Ruiz said, “I’m thinking I’m going to make the catch.”

Then came the offense. With the A’s trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, Ruiz provided a spark by leading off with a single to right. Five pitches later, he used that elite speed to race around the bases and score the game-tying run from first on ’s double, bringing the Oakland crowd to its feet as he slid head-first into home plate. Later in the inning, put the A’s ahead for good with an RBI single.

“He’s one of the most electric rookies that we have,” Kemp said of Ruiz. “He has the ability to change the game at any point. That diving catch on Trout, that’s an elite-level play. He’s got a lot to bring. Definitely a high-energy guy. I’m excited to see what he can do all season.”

This type of performance by Ruiz was nothing new for his teammates. They saw it all throughout Spring Training, as he earned his way onto his first Opening Day roster by hitting .326 in the Cactus League and shining on defense with several highlight plays.

“You got to see it firsthand on day one,” Kotsay said. “We saw some flashes in Spring Training with some similar catches. A great way to start his Oakland A’s career off in center field. Offensively, he got us going there [in the eighth]. You saw the speed, and you’ll continue to see it.”

In all, the season-opening victory was textbook in terms of how the A’s believe they can achieve success in 2023. It’s going to take a collective effort rather than individual performance, and that’s what they got, from the offense’s two-run rally in the eighth to Muller’s solid outing, which was handed off to a bullpen that finished things off with four scoreless innings, ending with notching his first save of the year.

“You go up against one of the best pitchers in the game and grind out a ‘W,’ that feels great,” Kotsay said. “It’s something we can build off of. It took a collective group tonight to win, and that’s how we’re going to have to do things throughout the season.”