The Chooch Cometh: Ten Days Out, What Can Carlos Ruiz's Return Mean to Phillies?

The Chooch Cometh: Ten Days Out, What Can Carlos Ruiz's Return Mean to Phillies?

Guest post by Matt Hammond

Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero have combined to hit .167/.164/.278 so far this season, with each of those being in the bottom four in baseball among catchers, and the OBP being dead-last.

And so, Carlos Ruiz becomes the Phillies early-season white knight, scheduled to ride in 10 games and 10 days from now, when his 25-game suspension ends – even though he’s presumed to be less than he was last season.

There’s good reason for the sentiment, whether he's who he was last year or before.

While Ruiz enjoyed a much-improved power stroke last season, in the rest of his game, he was pretty much the same player, which is to say a good one.

The uptick in his .325 average (.042) is almost perfectly accounted for by a bump in his batting average on balls in play (.031), often a measure of luck.

For the Phillies, Ruiz's .281 previous three-year average would be third-best among qualifying hitters on the team this season, behind Michael Young (.346) and Chase Utley (.283).

That lends itself to the lineup shuffle they need, letting Jimmy Rollins reassume lead-off duties, Young to jump to No. 2 and Ruiz to slide in behind Ryan Howard.

There’s more to blame for the Phillies 20th in baseball 50 runs scored so far, but Ben Revere’s .194/.242/.194 line is certainly among them. And while Revere may improve without leadoff-man pressure, even if he didn’t, his current slash line would make for just under the big-league
average for eight-hole hitters.

With Young, if his .884 OPS holds up, great. If not, his average, on-base percentage and overall instincts – who he really is, anyway – make him a perfect fit in the two-hole, considered along with the three-hole where your best hitter belongs.

They'll likely miss some power. Ruiz's 2012 home run rate was about that of Matt Weiters, whose 23 bombs were second among catchers, and his .935 OPS was just below Buster Posey’s best in the bigs. The Phillies rank 19th in baseball in home runs (13) and extra-base hits (40) through 15 games.

Ruiz also caught a career-high 34.0 percent of base stealers last year.

But even then, there’s upside. Or at the very least, status quo from Kratz.

The take in Ruiz’s 2012 was plate patience, seen in his career-low walk rate (6.9%) and near-career-high strikeout rate (11.9%), both notably worse than in 2011.

Maybe this year he reverts back to old tendencies and walks, and helps boost the team’s lowly .291 OBP and consequent scoring slumps. And if Ruiz rekindles his .847 OPS from 2010, he’d fall in line with the
five-hole hitting Howard cozied up to from 2007-2009, when the Phillies team five-hole OPS ranked 2nd in the NL each year, and when Howard was in the last of his home run-hitting prime.

Worst-case scenario: Ruiz's three-year prior OPS reemerges, and the Phillies five-hole hitting is precisely that of the Cardinals’ last year (10th in MLB), and 11th in the bigs so far.

Best-case scenario: Delmon Young rakes when he comes back from arthroscopic ankle surgery in early-to-mid May, lining up Ruiz to be one of the strongest seven-hole hitters in baseball.

As for his ability to nab base-stealers: Ruiz’s pre-2012 three-year caught stealing rate (25.9%) isn’t that far off from Kratz’s this year (28.6%) and would rank about average in baseball in 2013.

Hopefully we’re past the whole, “Erik Kratz Can’t Call A Game!” thing, especially with the rotation having already come around of late. (And the numbers showing that, at times, the staff had a better ERA with Kratz than Ruiz last year.)

Still, there’s something to be said for comfort, and Ruiz is just that for the Phillies $64.5 million top three starters – however intangible that may be.

As for what can be measured: don’t assume Ruiz can’t get or doesn’t ask for an exemption to use amphetamines again, what may or may not have fueled his surge.

You'd understand why he may be denied; it would make for a bad look from the league office to give a repeat drug policy offender the green light afterward. But such exemptions are apparently kinda easy to come by.

Ruiz has already been asked about such things, and he’s kept mum. We’ll see April 28.

What we already know: we'll see a valuable player and fan favorite rejoin a team that needs him.

Matt Hammond is the Phillies Insider and Update Anchor for 97.3 ESPN in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter here.

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

The Sixers (22-36) host the NBA-best Golden State Warriors (49-9) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Bummer at the buzzer
Apparently one good last-second shot deserves another.

The Sixers stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks on Saturday. Jahlil Okafor capped off his monster night with what appeared to be the game-winner at the time when he scored in the lane with nine seconds remaining.

That was until Carmelo Anthony drained a clutch jumper over Robert Covington with 0.3 ticks left on the clock to give the Knicks a 110-109 victory. Call it payback for T.J. McConnell's buzzer-beater against New York last month.

While the Sixers didn't get the win, they had to be pleased with some of the efforts they received on the second night of a back-to-back set. 

Okafor finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Dario Saric added 19 points and 15 boards.

2. So much splashing
The Sixers will need those type of performances and then some if they hope to keep up with this potent Warriors team.

In case you've been lost at sea since the summer, former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency to turn the "Splash Brothers" of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into an entire splash family.

Already dominant offensively, the Warriors have been even better this season with Durant. They rank No. 1 in a slew of offensive categories, including points per game (118.2), field goal percentage (50.0), assists per game (31.0), fastbreak points per game (23.5), offensive rating (114.1) and true shooting percentage (60.4).

If that weren't enough, Durant's length has also impacted the Warriors' defense too. They are first in the league in steals (9.6), blocks (6.7) and points off turnovers (19.2) per game.

Simply put, the Warriors are scary good. 

3. The wild card
Every family has that one person that you're just not sure about at times. They can make gatherings the best night ever or a downright miserable experience.

Enter Draymond Green. 

Green has been on the miserable side of the Warriors' gatherings lately. He shot 1 of 10 for five points and was benched for long stretches in Golden State's win over Brooklyn on Saturday. In the game prior to that against the L.A. Clippers, he picked up a technical foul, trash talked Paul Pierce and went to his preferred kick move on Blake Griffin.

Overall, Green has been his usual solid self on the court. He's averaging 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists a night while providing lockdown defense.

The Sixers are fully aware of Green's versatility. The veteran forward averaged a triple-double against them in the two meetings last season with 11.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists.

It will be interesting to see Green lock horns all game with the surging Saric.

4. Injuries
Joel Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

The Warriors have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost six straight games to the Warriors.

• With their 112-95 win over the Nets on Saturday, the Warriors became the first team to clinch a playoff berth. It marked the earliest a team has clinched a postseason spot since the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

• Covington is averaging 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in February.

• Thompson averaged 36.0 points on 54.7 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from three-point range against the Sixers last season.

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning was suspended two games for his illegal hit to Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel during Saturday's 4-2 loss in the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.
 
Manning's shoulder made contact with Guentzel's head.
 
Manning wasn't surprised and even admitted to reporters that he fully expected "one or two" games because he hit a player who didn't have control of the puck yet.
 
Strangely, there was no penalty on the play for interference, yet the NHL's explanation on Monday afternoon specifically cited "interference" as the reason for the suspension.
 
This is Manning's first NHL suspension.
 
The hearing was conducted on the phone Monday with Stephane Quintal, senior vice-president of NHL Player Safety. Manning will forfeit $10,833.34 in salary.
 
"It was late," Manning said of the hit. "He didn't touch the puck after it hit his skate, which I thought he was going to do. They do their whole breakdown by time frame."
 
Manning said he caught Guentzel's shoulder first, then his head "on the follow through" because Guentzel is shorter than him. The 6-foot-1 Manning has two inches on Guentzel.
 
Guentzel, who had two assists in the game, was not injured.
 
"Looking at it, [the hit] is a little late," Manning admitted. "I thought he was going to touch the puck. Usually, when a puck hits your skate, you pick it up, and he kinda left it. ... The hard part is, there was no penalty called on it."
 
Manning said he had to make a hit or face an odd-man rush.
 
"There were two players there and if I don't play my guy there, it’s a 3-on-1 the other way," he said. "You're giving up scoring chances. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. He finished the game and that's always the good thing."
 
Mark Streit, sitting on the bench at the time, said he saw the hit and was shocked at the suspension.
 
"It was a great hit," Streit said. "You look at the replay and everything looks different. You can slow down every hit and talk about it. I guess it was a little late ..."
 
Manning's suspension likely means Michael Del Zotto will play against Colorado on Tuesday.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Manning has been a "solid piece" for the club this season.
 
"He brings that physical edge, he's been reliable, and he's been a staple for our lineup," Hakstol said. "That's a hole we'll have to fill over next couple of games here."
 
Manning will also miss Thursday's game against Florida.