Ruben Amaro believes Carlos Ruiz is worth risk

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Ruben Amaro believes Carlos Ruiz is worth risk

Ruben Amaro Jr. made it pretty clear that he would have preferred something shorter than a three-year contract for catcher Carlos Ruiz. Amaro acknowledged that there were some battles in a “difficult” negotiation with Ruiz’s agent, Marc Kligman.

“But at the end of the day,” Amaro said, “the reality was this was the person we wanted to handle our pitching staff, so we moved forward.”

Amaro spoke these words during a hurried news conference to officially announce Ruiz’s new three-year, $26 million contract on Thursday night (see story). The news conference was hurried because Ruiz, a fan favorite since taking over the Phillies’ starting catching chores in 2007, had to hustle off for a Make A Wish visit with a young fan in South Jersey.

Ruiz was all smiles as he headed out the door.

“I’m happy,” he said. “Real happy. My goal when I got to the big leagues was finish my career here.”

Ruiz now has that chance. He turns 35 in January and the deal includes a club option for a fourth year.

Ruiz has missed time with back, hamstring, foot and oblique injuries in recent seasons. His health history and age has left many critics wondering how Amaro could justify guaranteeing three years on the contract. But with teams such as Boston and Colorado dangling two-year deals in front of Ruiz early in the free-agent season, Amaro felt he had to go to a third year to get his man.

The wisdom of that will play out in coming seasons.

“Clearly this is a commitment that will be scrutinized,” Amaro acknowledged.

“But when you start talking about this (catching) position and the dearth of quality at this position … I know that Chooch knows what it takes to be a championship-caliber player, to bring a championship to this city. We know that he’s caught the last pitch of the season and how important that is.

“And, really, with the marketplace with the way it was and with the ability he’s going to bring to the table -- he keeps himself in very good shape, he’s dedicated to the sport and his craft and he’s developed into one of the leaders of our club -- all those factors are part of the decision we made.

“Is it a risk to put three years into a catcher at this stage of his career? It can be, yes. But I think every signing is a risk, and we hope that he remains productive throughout the three years and perhaps more.”

Ruiz is confident he can do that.

“I know everybody says, ‘Third year,’" he said. “I feel great. I feel healthy and I’m strong.”

Ruiz had a poor first half in 2013. It started when he missed the first 25 games while serving a suspension for testing positive for using Adderall, an ADHD drug, without Major League approval in 2012. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently cited an official from a team that had courted Ruiz as saying that the catcher has since taken the necessary medical steps and been cleared by MLB to take the prescription drug. Asked about the report at Thursday night’s news conference, Kligman said, “That’s not something I think is appropriate to address at this time.”

Ruiz rebounded in the second half of 2013 and hit .313 with five homers, 28 RBIs and an .860 OPS in his first 43 games after the all-star break before tailing off over the final days of the season as he battled a bruised left hand.

Ruiz had a career year in 2012 when he hit .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games.

One of the Phillies’ stated goals in recent offseasons has been to get younger. That hasn’t happened this offseason. Amaro’s first two signings this offseason are high-mileage players. A week before bringing back Ruiz, Amaro signed 36-year-old rightfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million deal.

The Phillies have been forced to take age and health risks on the free-agent market because they either haven’t produced enough in-house talent to fill holes, or are not comfortable with that in-house talent. The team had long been looking for a right-handed hitting rightfielder and had Darin Ruf in-house, but Amaro basically ruled him out of consideration at the end of the 2013 season. That led to the targeting and signing of Byrd.

In fairness to the Phillies, they added three young players to the lineup last season in Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Cody Asche. But five of their projected opening day starters -- Ruiz, Byrd, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins -- will be 34 or older.

“Yes, they’re older,” Amaro said. “But they’re also very good when they’re playing.”

Amaro plans a few more additions to the pitching staff and possibly the outfield.

"We may look to try to improve our lineup somehow or tweak our lineup somehow," he said.

Still, he believes the aging core of the team can succeed.

“I think we can win,” he said. “Really it’s a matter of getting guys on the field. If they’re on the field, they’ll produce. Unless something drastic happens over the next few months, I fully expect them to be on the field and performing.

“I believe in our players. There’s no question they’re getting older, but if they’re on the field, they’ll produce.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Blanco's injury led to promotions for Phillies prospects Jesmuel Valentin, Scott Kingery

Blanco's injury led to promotions for Phillies prospects Jesmuel Valentin, Scott Kingery

The Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, was not considered for a promotion to the majors this week when Andres Blanco was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured finger, but Blanco's injury did create a cascade effect that resulted in two of the organization's other middle infield prospects earning call-ups.

Second baseman Jesmuel Valentin was promoted this week from from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley to replace Taylor Featherston, who the Phillies added in Blanco's spot. And 2B Scott Kingery was promoted from High A Clearwater to Reading to take Valentin's place.

It's a positive development for the Phillies, who have stockpiled so many intriguing prospects that singles hitters like Valentin and Kingery were mostly afterthoughts much of the season. 

Valentin, the son of former big-league shortstop Jose Valentin and the 51st overall draft pick in 2012, was acquired by the Phillies in August 2014 from the Dodgers in exchange for Roberto Hernandez. 

Valentin, 22, made the Double A All-Star Game this season and hit .276/.346/.399 in 388 plate appearances with Reading before the promotion. He looks like a future utility infielder who could maybe turn into something more.

The Phillies also received 21-year-old reliever Victor Arano in that Hernandez trade. Arano has been excellent this season at Clearwater, posting a 2.29 ERA in 32 appearances with 68 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 59 innings. 

The Phillies got two legit pieces for Hernandez, a journeyman fifth starter who is now out of baseball. It's crazy to think they received a better return for Hernandez than for Chase Utley. 

As for the right-handed hitting Kingery, he made his Double A debut on Monday, going 0 for 3 for Reading. He had a good run at Clearwater, hitting .293/.360/.411 in 420 plate appearances with 29 doubles and 26 steals. He was the Phils' second-round pick last year out of the University of Arizona. Kingery is a 5-foot-10, speedy second baseman who has a solid approach at the plate. He probably won't hit for power, but Kingery looks like the type who could eventually hit for average and take walks, perhaps one day turning into a more polished, instinctive and consistent version of Cesar Hernandez.

Quinn finally back
Roman Quinn, out since June 4 with an oblique injury, began a rehab assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League. In two games, the speedy, 23-year-old, switch-hitting centerfielder has gone 2 for 6 with a walk, a steal and two runs scored. 

He'll spend a few days in the GCL, where Mickey Moniak and Jhailyn Ortiz are currently playing, before advancing back up the chain. Moniak, by the way, had another multi-hit game Tuesday and is batting .321 through 90 plate appearances.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies (46-55) at Marlins (53-46)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Another impressive start by Jeremy Hellickson and some timely late offense led the Phillies to a series-opening win in Miami Monday. Now they go for the quick series win, which would be their first in four tries since the All-Star break.

Let's take a closer look at Tuesday's matchup:

1. One donut shy of a dozen
The Phillies' 4-0 win last night was their 11th shutout victory of the season, the most in baseball. The Mets and Dodgers are tied for second with nine.

The Phils' pitching staff was obviously at its best in April, when it set the MLB record for strikeouts per nine innings in the month at 10.4. The Phillies had five shutouts in April, two in May, two in June and now two in July. 

And it's not like the Phils have just taken advantage of bad teams here, shutting out the Braves or Padres repeatedly. They've shut out the Nationals twice, the Mets, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins and Diamondbacks. All of those teams except Arizona (which has a good offense) is above .500 and in the playoff hunt.

It's been written here many times that the most important short-term decision the Phillies made this past offseason was to raise the floor of the starting rotation. They've done it, and more importantly they've done it with youth. The Phillies' mediocre, veteran-laden 2015 staff had just seven shutouts all season.

2. Walk this way
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp both had productive nights Monday in their returns to the starting lineup. Franco went 1 for 2 with a double and three walks, scoring the Phillies' first and ultimately game-winning run in the eighth. Rupp went 0 for 2 but also walked three times and saw 26 pitches.

How rare is it for two Phillies to walk three times in the same game? It hadn't happened since Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz did it on April 5, 2010 at Nationals Park in Roy Halladay's Phillies debut.

Franco and Rupp may have been the two most unlikely Phillies to walk three times. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and Rupp walked just three times in the season's first two months. Rupp had just 11 in 248 plate appearances this season before Monday.

The Phillies averted disaster with two of their productive, young hitters after Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist (again) in Pittsburgh and Rupp was hit on the helmet. 

3. Eickhoff's turn
Two of Jerad Eickhoff's last three starts have seen him start strong and fall apart in the middle innings. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits over five innings against the Marlins last week after beginning the game with three scoreless innings.

Right before the All-Star break, Eickhoff was cruising at Coors Field with four shutout innings before the umpire's strike zone shrunk and Eickhoff's control disappeared. He allowed two runs in the fifth and six in the sixth.

In between those two outings was a well-pitched game in which Eickhoff allowed two runs in six innings to the Mets for yet another quality start.

So even though the results lately have been ugly for Eickhoff, even though his ERA has risen from 3.30 to 3.98 in the span of three weeks, he hasn't been all that bad. He just needs to avoid that one big inning.

Eickhoff, who is 6-11 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 starts this season, is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA against the Marlins this season. He pitched six shutout innings against them in their lone meeting last year.

Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have caused the most problems for him, going a combined 6 for 15 with three doubles and two homers.

4. Time to hit Koehler
The Phillies have had three looks at mediocre Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) this season and failed to hit him all three times. 

On May 7, Koehler allowed one run on two hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts in a game the Phillies eventually won. 

On May 18, he allowed two runs to them in seven innings and induced 16 groundballs.

And then last week, matched up against Eickhoff, Koehler again gave up just two hits, this time over eight innings. He allowed two homers but only one of the Phils' three runs was earned.

It's hard to explain why, all the sudden, the Phils have stopped hitting the 6-foot-3 righty. Last season, a worse Phillies team scored 15 runs against him in 21 innings. 

The Phillies are familiar with Koehler's repertoire, which includes a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range, a curveball, slider and changeup. In the first two meetings this season he threw them a ton of fastballs, 115 in all. But last week he threw just 38 fastballs among 110 pitches. He threw 34 curveballs in that game, by far the most he's thrown this season. Don't be surprised to see a similar game plan tonight given how well it worked last week.

Current Phillies have hit just .201 against Koehler with three homers (Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis) in 144 at-bats.

5. Marlins notes
• Ichiro has gone 0 for 4 as a pinch-hitter in the Marlins' last four games. He's sitting on 2,996 career hits, meaning he could get his historic 3,000th against the Phillies this week with a big game or two. It would require the Marlins to sit one of Ozuna, Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton, though.

• Stanton this season against the Phillies: 3 for 33 (.091), one extra-base hit (a homer), two RBIs, 14 strikeouts. 

Against everyone else, Stanton has hit .257/.350/.524 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs. If you remove the Phillies from the equation, Stanton's OPS this season would be 52 points higher, .874 instead of .822.