Nationals being mindful with Ruiz in his return from influenza

April 26th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- Sidelined for 13 team games, wanted to get back behind the plate. The starting catcher was wiped out, though.

At the beginning of the Nationals' three-city West Coast road trip, Ruiz came down with influenza. He played the series opener on April 8 in San Francisco, but he was sidelined for the rest of the swing in Oakland and Los Angeles.

Ruiz lost almost 20 pounds and went on the 10-day injured list on April 15, retroactive to April 12. He built up strength to play two games in a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg this week, and he was cleared to come off the IL on Thursday.

“He was pretty sick, and he lost a lot of weight,” manager Dave Martinez said before the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the Dodgers. “We’ll keep an eye on him and make sure he’s feeling good every day. But he’s excited to be back.”

After playing on Tuesday and Wednesday with the Senators, Ruiz made it three days in a row in the series finale at Nationals Park. He caught the complete game, MacKenzie Gore’s longest start of the season (six innings, 102 pitches).

“It was good [to have Ruiz back], we need him,” Gore said. “So it’ll be nice to get him rolling, get in a rhythm, because he hasn’t played in a while.”

The Nationals were mindful of Ruiz’s layoff, communicating with him throughout the afternoon as the game progressed. Even though he is back on the field, there still is conditioning work to be done.

“I think it would be kind of hard [to regain all of his weight] because he’s a catcher, and he sweats a lot -- a lot, a lot,” said Martinez. “But my big thing is his strength. I just want to make sure he’s hydrated and that we keep a really close eye on him because it is a demanding job to go out there and catch every day, nine innings.”

Ruiz returned against his former team, from whom he was traded to the Nationals in 2021 in the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner megadeal. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Thursday.

“We faced them before, so it’s nothing new,” Ruiz said. “I feel like we had the game there. I got a couple opportunities to bring in RBIs and tie the game, but I’ve got to make adjustments. I don’t want to make excuses, I’ve got to make adjustments and be better to help the team.”

While Ruiz was sidelined, backup catcher Riley Adams stepped in and showed his growth. Adams, who had made just four starts before Ruiz went on the IL, caught all but one of the games. (Drew Millas, ranked the team's No. 19 prospect by MLB Pipeline, was called up from Triple-A and caught the remaining contest.)

“He’s got a real grasp on how he’s handling the pitching staff -- individual pitchers, our starters, what he wants to do, how he wants to attack hitters,” Martinez said of Adams. “He’s done a great job. He’s really taken charge, his communication’s been off the charts with the pitchers, so it’s been good.”

During that span, Adams had three multihit games and one home run. With this momentum, Martinez would like to find ways to keep Adams engaged and in the lineup.

“We’re definitely going to use him,” said Martinez. “We’re going to let him catch, and we can also DH Keibert like we’ve done in the past … He’s learned a lot over the years, and he’s really coming into his own.”

Ruiz and Adams have developed a strong chemistry as a catching tandem. Ruiz was impressed with how Adams managed the backstop in his absence, a testament to their cohesion as a duo.

“[He was] really good,” Ruiz said. “He’s having a good start, a good year. I like him. We try to help together all the time. Whoever is catching, we just try to help the team win.”