Ruben Amaro believes Carlos Ruiz is worth risk

ap-carlos-ruiz-slide.jpg

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.”

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola is a quiet, low-key Southern gentleman. Outward displays of emotion are not his thing.

But Nola made an exception Tuesday night.

After Maikel Franco made the play of the game to get Nola out of a jam in the seventh inning, the pitcher approached the third baseman in the dugout and …

"I gave him a hug," Nola said with a smile.

Franco's glove — and his bat — helped make a winner out of Nola and the Phillies as they rallied to beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-2, at Safeco Field (see Instant Replay).

"The game is about making pitches when they count, getting key hits and making good plays like that to help your pitcher out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We had a little bit of everything tonight. It was a lot of fun tonight."

Mackanin hasn't been able to say that a lot this season, particularly on the road where the Phillies have now won just 11 times in 42 games.

The Phillies came into this series in Seattle having lost three straight in Arizona and scoring just four runs in those losses. Then they were no-hit over the first four innings Tuesday night by Mariners lefty James Paxton.

The Mariners led, 2-0, thanks to a two-run homer by Jean Segura against Nola in the third. Franco led off the fifth with the Phillies' first hit, a double to right against Paxton, and that started a game-tying, two-run rally that featured two hits, a walk and two sacrifice flies.

The game turned for good in the seventh inning. Franco led off the frame with a solo home run — reliever Luis Garcia, one of Franco's best pals, caught the ball in his cap in the bullpen — to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

Nola survived a couple of jams early in the game then faced another big one in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of one-out singles before striking out Mike Zunino for the second out in the seventh. The strikeout, Nola's ninth of the game, came on his 112th pitch, the most of his career, and Mackanin quickly popped out of the dugout and walked briskly to the mound. Segura, who had taken Nola deep in the third inning, was due up. Was Mackanin going to take Nola out?

No.

"I just wanted to let him know that this was his game," Mackanin said. "He pitched so well up to that point, I wanted him to know it was his game, finish it for us."

Nola thought there was a chance Mackanin was coming to take him out.

"But once he asked how I felt, I knew I wasn't out," Nola said. "I told him I felt good and thought I could finish the inning."

Nola threw one more pitch. Segura hit it hard down the third-base line, but Franco laid out, made a diving stab and threw across the diamond for the third out. If Franco doesn't make the play, the game is tied and Nola doesn't get a win.

That's why Franco got a hug.

"Segura put a pretty decent swing on that curveball and Mikey made a heck of a play," Nola said. "He also hit a big home run. It was a good team win."

Franco might have the bubbliest personality in the clubhouse, but he hasn't had many opportunities to show it. There's been a lot of losing this season and his play has been inconsistent.

But Franco was able to enjoy this one.

"I don't know how I made that play," he said with a laugh. "That's the little things that win ballgames. Bottom of the seventh, two outs. It was a big play and I'm glad for me and I'm glad for Nola. He did a good job."

And how about that hug?

"Oh, yeah," Franco said with a smile. "He said, 'Nice play, that's a sick play.'"

With two important extra-base hits and a game-saving defensive play, Franco once again showed how special he could be if he could add consistency to his game.

"I keep waiting for it and it's good to see little by little," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see him do it more often. He's capable of it. We've seen him do it in the past."

The Phillies got some good relief work from Joaquin Benoit then blew the game open in the eighth and ninth innings against the Seattle bullpen. Aaron Altherr hit a two-run homer and Freddy Galvis drove in a pair of runs with a pair of singles.

Galvis voiced his frustration with all the losing on Monday and urged his teammates to show more effort (see story). He backed up his words with three hits.

Timely hitting, clutch defense, good relief work and, of course, a second straight strong start from Nola.

We haven't been able to say it often this season, but this was a good win.

"When that starter gives you seven innings, it makes it a little easier," Mackanin said. "Nola made pitches when he had to. He really kept us in the game."

And Franco did the rest.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola pitched well and Maikel Franco came up huge with his bat and his glove in leading the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in an interleague game on Tuesday night.

Nola won his second straight start to improve to 5-5.

Franco gave Nola a 3-2 lead with a tiebreaking, leadoff homer in the top of the seventh then preserved the lead with a sensational diving play to end the bottom of the inning.

Freddy Galvis had three singles and drove in two important runs late in the game.

The win was just the Phillies' 11th in 42 games on the road this season. They are 25-51 overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola reached a career-high of 113 pitches over seven gutsy innings. He gave up five hits and two runs and got a bunch of big outs with men on base. He walked four and struck out nine.

Nola got out of jams with two men on base three times, including in the bottom of the seventh when he preserved a one-run lead by striking out Mike Zunino and getting Jean Segura on a groundball to third. Franco made a tremendous diving play on the ball to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring.

Nola has won two straight starts. He has pitched 14 1/3 innings over that span, allowed just three runs and racked up 17 strikeouts.

Lefty James Paxton did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. He gave up Franco's go-ahead homer.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a two-run lead.

The Seattle bullpen allowed five runs in two innings.

At the plate
Franco ignited a game-tying, two-run rally in the top of the fifth. He led off that inning with a double, the Phillies' first hit. Cameron Perkins followed with an infield hit and Cameron Rupp drew a walk. The Phillies then scored a pair of runs on consecutive sacrifice fly balls by Ty Kelly and Daniel Nava. Galvis followed with a single and third base coach Juan Samuel got a little too aggressive in sending Rupp from second base. Rupp was cut down at the plate.

Franco's go-ahead homer in the seventh was his 10th of the season. Galvis pushed home an insurance run in the eighth. He followed Nava's leadoff double with an RBI single. Galvis drove home another run with a hit in the top of the ninth and Aaron Altherr put it out of reach with a two-run homer, his 13th of the season.

Segura smacked a two-run homer in the third to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

In the field
Franco made a diving stab on Segura's smash down the third-base line to end the seventh inning and keep the Phils up by a run.

A night off
Odubel Herrera, he of several recent miscues and lapses in concentration, did not start Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin said it was a night off, not a benching. Herrera said he has to start playing smarter baseball (see story).

Health check
Jerad Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper-back strain, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will help determine if he's ready to return in the coming days.

Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) pitches against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68). Leiter pitched six scoreless innings in his first big-league start Friday in Arizona.