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.”

Mistake-prone Odubel Herrera: 'I have to slow down and be smarter'

Mistake-prone Odubel Herrera: 'I have to slow down and be smarter'

SEATTLE — Two days after being fined for ignoring a manager's order and one day after failing to run out a dropped third strike on one of his three strikeouts, enigmatic Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera was not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners.

Benched?

No, said manager Pete Mackanin.

"Just a day off," he said.

Benched?

No, said Herrera.

"No, no, he talked to me today and said just a night off," Herrera said. "He told me I will play tomorrow."

With a tough lefty, James Paxton, pitching for Seattle, Mackanin went with a lineup heavy on right-handed bats and switch-hitters. Herrera hits left-handed. Paxton was holding lefty hitters to a .194 batting average this season.

Interestingly, Herrera has hit lefties (.272) better than righties (.250) this season and he's in the midst of a month of June that has seen him stroke 16 extra-base hits while hitting .333 for a team that scored just four runs while losing its last three in Phoenix.

Nonetheless, Mackanin held Herrera out.

"It gives me a chance to play the other guys," said Mackanin, who used an outfield of Daniel Nava in left field, Aaron Altherr in center and Cameron Perkins in right.

So it has nothing to do with Herrera's three punch outs and effort on Monday?

"No," Mackanin said.

Is Herrera tired?

"It just gives me the opportunity to get the other guys some at-bats," Mackanin said.

Despite a big month of June at the plate — a .359 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage — Herrera has committed a series of frustrating mistakes, from running through a stop sign at third base, to getting picked off, to not running out a dropped third strike, to ignoring a sign.

Herrera often has a green light to steal bases, but Mackanin put a hold on him with two outs in the sixth inning of Saturday night's game. Herrera ignored the hold and was caught stealing while the Phils trailed, 3-2. They ended up losing, 9-2.

Herrera's transgression resulted in Mackanin's taking disciplinary action: He fined the player several hundred dollars. (It will be donated to charity.)

Herrera confirmed that he was fined.

"I understand the fine," he said in English. "I have to learn."

Herrera confirmed that he ignored Mackanin's red light in Saturday's game.

"I saw the sign," Herrera said. "I just took a chance because I saw the catcher's sign (for a breaking ball) and I thought I could make it. But the pitcher didn't throw to home, he threw to first."

Herrera acknowledged his rash of recent mistakes.

"Not concentrating," he said. "A lack of concentration. Sometimes I use too much aggressiveness, you know? I have to slow down and be smarter and just learn from things."

The Phillies signed Herrera to a five-year, $30.5 million contract over the winter. That kind of money can dull a player's edge, but Herrera insists that he's as hungry as ever.

"No, no, no," he said. "I'm not like that. I still want to play hard, still want to be aggressive. Sometimes you don't get the results that you are looking for."

MLB Notes: Tim Tebow ready for next step through Mets' system

MLB Notes: Tim Tebow ready for next step through Mets' system

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow knows he can still improve on everything.

Given his numbers, that's obvious.

If he's the world's most popular minor league .220 hitter, that's just fine with the new left fielder for the St. Lucie Mets. Called up to the New York Mets' advanced Class A affiliate in the Florida State League earlier this week, Tebow was supposed to bat eighth and debut with his new club Tuesday.

First, though, an unplanned day off: The game was postponed after a deluge hit just before the scheduled first pitch. A doubleheader was set for Wednesday.

For St. Lucie, Tebowmania will wait another day.

"We're all as eager as anyone else is to see what the overall impact is going to be," St. Lucie general manager Traer Van Allen said.

Tebow went through batting practice -- under bright sun, incidentally -- and shook hands on the field with some of his new teammates.

He said he isn't looking ahead, and for now remains just focused on the process of getting better.

"It's a scary place to get caught up in, the `where's this going to lead,' `what's going to happen to my future,' `what is the next day,'" Tebow said. "I get today. Tomorrow's not promised. I'm going to make the most of today.

"And that sounds cliche, but gosh, I hope when you look at my life 10, 20, 30 years from now, you can see somebody that they really took advantage of that day," (see full story).

Cubs: Champs to make informal trip to White House
WASHINGTON -- Manager Joe Maddon and some of the Chicago Cubs will visit the White House on Wednesday, though it's not an official visit with President Donald Trump.

Maddon said Tuesday that he was going out of respect for the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs and donated to Trump's campaign. Maddon said it was voluntary for Cubs players and not an official trip.

"I don't have any rules to begin with," Maddon said. "I just want you to run hard to first base. As long as you run hard to first base, they can make up their own mind whether they want to go to the White House or not. As long as my pitchers work on defense, they can do whatever they want tomorrow."

The Cubs are in Washington to play the Nationals.

The White House visit is so unofficial that Maddon said it's only "a possibility" that he and the Cubs will see Trump. The team visited President Barack Obama at the White House as World Series champions in January before the end of his term.

Amid questions about whether the NBA champion Golden State Warriors will visit Trump, Maddon said he isn't making a political statement by going.

"I like the United States a lot, I like living here a lot and I like everything that it represents a lot," Maddon said. "When you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go. I think you go. And whether you like the person that's running the country or not, out of respect to the office itself, you go" (see full story).

Yankees: Castro on DL; prospect Wade recalled
CHICAGO -- The New York Yankees placed Starlin Castro on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday with a strained right hamstring.

Castro was injured running out a ground ball in the third inning of New York's 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night. The second baseman is batting .313 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in 73 games.

Although an MRI on Tuesday morning revealed a Grade 1 strain, Castro doesn't believe he'll be sidelined long.

"I don't think it's serious," he said. "When I woke up, I was walking normal."

The Yankees recalled infielder Tyler Wade -- one of the organization's top prospects -- from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Castro's roster spot.

Wade, 22, wasn't in the lineup Tuesday because Chicago started left-hander Jose Quintana. Yankees manager Joe Girardi plans to start Wade against right-handers.

Indians: Manager Francona hospitalized, misses game
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona missed Tuesday night's game against Texas after his second trip to the hospital this month.

The Indians said doctors for now have ruled out major health issues and Francona will be monitored the next several weeks.

The 58-year-old Francona left Monday night's game because he wasn't feeling well. He spent several hours at Cleveland Clinic and underwent a series of tests.

Francona was released from the hospital on Tuesday and spent the rest of the day at home. He was expected to return to the dugout Wednesday when the Indians host the Rangers.

Bench coach Brad Mills is running the team in Francona's absence. Cleveland began the day in first place in the AL Central after rallying for a 15-9 win Monday.

"Tito actually wanted to come back to the ballpark today," team president Chris Antonetti said Tuesday. "I told him he can't come back to the ballpark today. He only got a couple hours of sleep last night, so despite his desire to want to be here, I thought it was best that he gets some rest tonight and just come back tomorrow. His plan when he was getting released from the hospital was to come over here."

"I don't think he was exceedingly happy with me," Antonetti said with a laugh. "That's OK."

Francona was hospitalized June 13 following a game at Progressive Field. He underwent tests and was released a few hours later, returning to work the following night. Last August, he missed a game after experiencing chest pains but was back the next day.

"Thankfully, we've got some great doctors that are coordinating his care," Antonetti said. "They've done every test they can possibly imagine. They've all come back clean. They're now working to try to figure out what are some of those things that are causing him to not feel so well."

Francona, a close friend of Mills for several years, has retained his sense of humor through his health issues.

A statement released by the team Tuesday read, "Mr. Francona also wanted to express that medical personnel have not yet ruled out an allergy to Bench Coach Brad Mills."

Brewers: Braun, Villar activated from disabled list
CINCINNATI -- The Milwaukee Brewers have activated outfielder Ryan Braun and second baseman Jonathan Villar from the 10-day disabled list before opening a three-game series at Cincinnati.

The Brewers on Tuesday designated infielder-outfielder Nick Franklin for assignment. Milwaukee already had a spot open on the 25-man roster after optioning catcher Jeff Bandy and outfielder Lewis Brinson to Triple-A Colorado Springs and adding catcher Stephen Vogt on Sunday.

Braun missed 31 games because of a left calf strain. He hit .262 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 30 games before going on the disabled list for the second time this season with the same injury.

Villar has missed the last 16 games because of a lower back sprain. He hit .213 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 59 games.