Don't call it a comeback for Carlos Ruiz

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Don't call it a comeback for Carlos Ruiz

When he stepped to the plate, the crowd clapped loudly. Then came the familiar refrain, the long, drawn-out collective chorus that stretches his nickname from South Philly to South Street. Choooooooch, they cried. And there he was.

Carlos Ruiz hadn’t played a game for the Phillies since hurting his hamstring back on May 19. He wasn’t supposed to play a game for the Phillies on Tuesday, either. The catcher was scheduled to make a rehab appearance for Double A Reading on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the schedule changed and he was activated. The schedule has a way of doing that when the other options at catcher aren’t really options at all.

In his first at-bat, Ruiz pushed a soft, looping bloop into right field. Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth could have caught the ball, but it slipped beneath his glove, and the official scorer gave Ruiz a hit. The crowd was pleased with all of that -- Ruiz’s return, the hit, Werth’s mistake, the whole thing seemed to delight the Citizens Bank Park assembly.

In his second and third at-bats, Ruiz struck out and grounded out, but the Phillies beat the Nationals, 4-2 (see Instant Replay).

About the injury, Ruiz said he’s fine, that he doesn’t “feel anything,” and that he’s “almost running normal.” He swore his accelerated return had nothing to do with the other catchers -- the ones not named Erik Kratz (who’s also injured) -- and their lack of production. Ruiz said he wanted to return early because he feels “great,” which evidently dovetails with that part he said about not feeling anything.

However he actually feels, he’s back. How he will hit now that he’s in the lineup is another matter. Charlie Manuel started Ruiz out in the eight hole on Tuesday as a way to ease him back into things.

“That was my thinking -- put him down there and let him get some at-bats,” Manuel said. “On nights we have a good night, he’ll get four at-bats. On nights we aren’t getting runs, he’ll get three, probably. We’ll see where he’s at.”

Where he was before the injury wasn’t a good place. It has not been an easy year for Ruiz. He missed the first 25 games of the season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Then he played 16 games. Then he hurt his hamstring. Then he had to press pause on the season again.

In those 16 games, Ruiz hit .235/.286/.275 with just two RBIs. He didn’t have a home run. He still doesn’t. All that after having his best season at the plate last year when he was named an All-Star and hit .325/.394/.540 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs.

At the moment, this version of Ruiz is a long way from looking like that version of Ruiz. But how long might it take to resemble even an old approximation of the Chooch train that chugged up the hitting hill?

“I don’t want to think about that,” Ruiz said. “Just one at-bat at a time. Sometimes you get your timing back right away. Maybe you don’t have it. For me, I go up there and play good defense, call a good game and win the game.”

How he handles the staff might be the most pressing concern in the short term. As of Tuesday, the Phillies had the seventh-worst team ERA in the majors.

“I want him to be a really good catcher for now,” Manuel said. “I want him to throw, block balls and call the games like he always has, and his hitting will be a plus to us. I’m sure he’ll hit enough to hold his own. He’ll get a big hit for you sometimes. But his defense and game-calling means a whole lot to us. We’ve had some trouble with that.

“I don’t mean it was a problem, I mean that he’s been very good at it. I shouldn’t say it was a problem. Hopefully I can take that back.

“He does a really good job for us. He’s been a really solid catcher for us for two-and-a-half, three years. He does a tremendous job for us on defense, and in the last year-and-a-half when he came into his own as a hitter, it’s been big for us.”

Tonight's lineup: Cesar Hernandez, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp back in after day off

Tonight's lineup: Cesar Hernandez, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp back in after day off

The Phillies, winners of six straight, are using a more traditional lineup for tonight's series open in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.

Cesar Hernandez, Tommy Joseph, and Cameron Rupp are all back in the lineup after getting Thursday afternoon off against the Marlins. Hernandez is back in his usual leadoff spot, while Joseph is hitting seventh and Rupp eighth. Freddy Galvis is back in the two-hole.

Maikel Franco will look to continue his hot streak tonight against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda. Franco is 9 for 23 with a double, two homers, 10 RBIs, three walks and just one strikeout during the Phillies' current winning streak.

Franco is 2 for 5 with a strikeout and two singles in his career against Maeda.

Here is the Phillies' full lineup.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Aaron Altherr, LF
7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And the Dodgers' lineup:

1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Justin Turner, 3B
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Yasmani Grandal, C
6. Chase Utley, 2B
7. Cody Bellinger, LF
8. Enrique Hernandez, RF
9. Kenta Maeda, P

For more on tonight's game, check out Corey Seidman's game notes.

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Next 15 games will show us who the Phils are

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Next 15 games will show us who the Phils are

Phillies (11-9) at Dodgers (11-12)
10:10 p.m. on The Comcast Network; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Draft, schmaft. The streaking Phillies are the best story in town.

OK, maybe not until Monday. But there's a buzz around this Phillies team, which has won six games in a row but begins a tough road trip Friday night in L.A.

Let's take a look:

1. Daunting stretch commences
The Phillies played well for the first seven weeks last season and carried a 25-19 record into a difficult road trip through Detroit and Chicago.

They won one game on that trip, beginning a stretch of 19 losses in 24 games. With that, their season was effectively over.

"We've just got to continue that for a little bit longer than we did last year," Pete Mackanin said after Thursday's win.

It won't be easy. The Phillies have three at Dodger Stadium, then four at Wrigley Field against the defending champion-Cubs, then they play six of their next eight against the Nationals, who've been the best team in baseball this month. (They also have a two-game series with the Mariners in there.)

Even if the Phils go something like 6-9 during this upcoming stretch, they'd emerge out of it 17-18, which would be a more-than-respectable start given the difficulty of their early-season schedule.

The good news is that after facing the Nationals six more times the next two weeks, the Phillies don't play them again until September.

2. Be like Maik
Maikel Franco's hot bat has carried the Phillies over the last week. 

During the six-game winning streak, he's gone 9 for 23 (.391) with a double, two homers, 10 RBIs, three walks and just one strikeout. The grand slam was great but the best sign has been the way he's used the whole field and not gotten himself out.

Franco is hitting mistake-pitches right now. It's something we haven't seen him do consistently the last two seasons because of his over-aggressiveness.

This hot streak won't last forever — in fact, it might not even make the trip out West. But Franco has indeed shown that when he's seeing the ball well, he can carry an offense. We used to say that often about the Phillies' previous cleanup hitter, didn't we?

3. Also, be like Eick
The Phillies have played so well the last week that even the national folks at MLB Network took notice Thursday night.

Greg Amsinger, Dan Plesac and Eric Byrnes did two whole segments on the Phillies, and at the end of one of them Plesac said that, "When this team is ready to contend again, Jerad Eickhoff will be front and center."

Eickhoff is finally getting some recognition.

Every athlete in every sport will tell you consistency is what they seek the most. It's as cliche as it gets, and it's usually meaningless because nothing in sports is totally consistent. You're hot for a few weeks, teams adjust, a cold spell begins, etc.

Well, Eickhoff is totally consistent. He's pitched six or more innings in 26 of 37 starts the last two seasons and he's allowed three earned runs or less in 31 of them.

Every fifth day, the Phillies know what they're going to get: at least six quality innings that keep them in the game and provide them a chance for a late win.

The Phils never seem to hit for Eickhoff, who is 0-1 this season despite stellar numbers: a 2.55 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, more than a strikeout per inning and a .200 opponents' batting average.

Eickhoff has been considerably better at home than on the road during his brief career, posting a 2.95 ERA at Citizens Bank Park and a 3.80 ERA everywhere else.

He's never pitched at Dodger Stadium, a ballpark that definitely favors pitchers.

Eickhoff's lone meeting with the Dodgers came last August. It was one of the few games he allowed more than four runs, but the Phillies actually provided some offense to get him off the hook. He struck out eight but was taken deep by Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal.

4. A look at the Dodgers
Over are the days when the Dodgers had too many productive outfielders to play at one time. Matt Kemp has been traded twice, Andre Ethier can't get on the field, Joc Pederson is on the DL and Yasiel Puig has become a mediocre player.

The Dodgers' lineup looks a lot different these days, especially with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez shelved temporarily with a forearm injury that's bothered him for months.

Turner and Corey Seager are the two standouts in L.A.'s lineup. 

It's often mentioned that the Mets shouldn't have let Daniel Murphy walk, but losing Turner hurt nearly as much. Since signing with the Dodgers in 2014, Turner has hit .300/.368/.491 with 90 doubles, 50 home runs and 201 RBIs in 407 games. He's coming off an insane second half last season and leads the NL with nine doubles.

Seager has so far lived up to every bit of hype. In 898 plate appearances, he's hit .312 with a .900 OPS. He walks, he has massive power, he hits doubles (40 last season) and plays really good defense.

The key to holding the Dodgers in check is getting past that 2-3 of Seager and Turner. The rest of the lineup is lacking right now with Gonzalez, Pederson and Logan Forsythe banged up.

The Dodgers earlier this week called up one of their top prospects in first baseman Cody Bellinger. He's 1 for 10 with five strikeouts through three games. He entered the season as Baseball America's No. 7 prospect in the majors. The guy has hit bombs at every minor-league level.

5. Phils face Maeda
• The Phillies will face second-year Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda, who went 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA last season but hasn't pitched well yet in 2017. In four starts, he's 1-2 with a 8.05 ERA and has allowed seven home runs in 19 innings.

Maeda doesn't go too deep into games. He's lasted less than six innings in 21 of his 36 starts with the Dodgers.

Maeda got the win both times he faced the Phillies last season but didn't pitch particularly well either time. He gave up five runs in 11 innings on four homers. The home runs were hit by Aaron Altherr, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp.

Galvis and Hernandez each reached base against him three times.

Maeda has five pitches: a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, sinker and curveball. He primarily uses the fastball and slider against righties but will throw any of those pitches to a lefty. The changeup has been by far his best pitch in the majors (.204 opponents' batting average, no home runs allowed) and the curveball has been by far his worst (.383).