Is Ruiz the answer to Phillies' catching issues?

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Is Ruiz the answer to Phillies' catching issues?

Just over two weeks ago, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sized up his team and said, “We’ve got catching issues. We need to figure out what we’re going to do behind the plate. That’s crucial.”
 
Catching wasn’t the only area that Amaro referred to as he gazed forward at his offseason to-do list. He also mentioned the bullpen.
 
And the bullpen.
 
And the bullpen.
 
Several Phillies eras have ended recently and more will in the coming weeks. The Phils’ run of five straight NL East titles ended last season, and Charlie Manuel’s successful stewardship ended last month. The Phils are headed toward their first losing season since 2002, so the final pitch of the 2013 season will mark the end of another era.
 
And with that final pitch, one has to wonder if yet another era will end.
 
Popular catcher Carlos Ruiz, who mirrored the Phillies’ ascension to the top of the baseball world with his rise from a nondescript $8,000 signing on a Panama sandlot to Major League All-Star, will be a free agent at season’s end.
 
The man who had the final putout in the Phillies’ 2008 World Series win and so many more in the club’s run of division titles could catch his final game with the team on Sept 29. Ruiz is hoping that won’t be the case. He hopes that the Phillies will sign him to a contract extension over the winter, but it’s not clear whether they will. Ruiz will be 35 in January and until recently had not played well in 2013. Hence, Amaro’s saying, “We’ve got catching issues.”
 
In the two-plus weeks that have passed since Amaro made that comment, Ruiz has picked up his play. He has had his best stretch of the season -- at the plate and behind it. Over his last 16 games, he is hitting .379 (22 for 78) with six doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs. He is swinging more confidently and aggressively and hitting balls harder. He has risen from eighth in the batting order to fourth. Ruiz hit in the middle of the order frequently in 2012, a career year in which he hit .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs.
 
Ruiz’s 2012 season, of course, comes with some fine print. He tested positive for a banned stimulant and ended up serving a 25-game suspension at the start of this season. Once he returned, he never got untracked and missed a month with a hamstring injury.
 
When Ruiz was able to get in the lineup, he tried to make up for lost time in a hurry. He pressed.
 
“I felt like I wanted to do everything in one at-bat, and that’s impossible,” he said.
 
Few know Ruiz better than pitching coach Rich Dubee. He could see Ruiz pressing at the plate and behind it.
 
“When he first got back, he really wasn’t the same guy,” Dubee said. “He was trying to catch a young staff at the big-league level that was a rush for many of these kids. He was trying to do stuff with them that you can only do with a more mature pitcher, but it was understandable because he was trying to help them get through games and get them through innings.
 
“The last month or so he’s back to being more the Carlos Ruiz we’ve seen in the past. He’s much more aware of the game going on. I think the suspension and missing time put a weight on him.”
 
Ruiz admits he’s more comfortable now. He is at peace. He is letting his play speak for itself. He will be happy if it leads to a contract extension. He will play somewhere else if it doesn’t.
 
“I want to finish strong and leave it up to Ruben,” Ruiz said.
 
Amaro has noticed Ruiz’s improved play in recent games.
 
“He’s picked it up,” Amaro said. “He’s a little more relaxed. He was thinking catch-up all at once, but now he’s relaxed and playing well again.”
 
Still, what to do at the catching position next season remains a riddle. Brian McCann is the prize of the free-agent market, but he will be expensive and hits left-handed. The Phillies desperately need a productive right-handed bat. A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are also free agents, but they also hit left-handed. Dioner Navarro is having a nice season with the Cubs and he will be a free agent. Kurt Suzuki could be a free agent if Oakland doesn’t pick up his option.
 
While there are other possibilities out there, re-signing Ruiz could make sense, especially if he continues to impress in September. For one thing, the Phillies could end up with a bargain. Ruiz is making $5 million this season, but his struggles could keep his price tag down and that could free up money to be used in other areas.
 
Dubee believes Ruiz has good years left, but he was frank in saying that Ruiz would be most productive being limited to about 100 games.
 
“I don’t know that he’s a 120-game guy anymore,” Dubee said. “He’s going to be 35. I still think he can catch 90, maybe 100, and be a very effective player for you. You need a guy that probably can catch another 50 games for you.”
 
That guy could be Erik Kratz or Cameron Rupp or someone off the free-agent market like a Navarro.
 
The Phils may be looking for only a short-term answer, a season or two, at catcher. While top catching prospect Tommy Joseph lost a year of development with a concussion issue this season, the Phils have several other catching prospects on the way, including Andrew Knapp, this year’s second-round pick. Scouts think he could be a fast riser.
 
Amaro was right when he said the Phillies have catching issues. But if Carlos Ruiz continues his recent strong play, he could end up being part of the solution.

Tonight's lineup: Aaron Altherr bats 5th for Phillies in season debut

Tonight's lineup: Aaron Altherr bats 5th for Phillies in season debut

Aaron Altherr, activated by the Phillies Thursday afternoon, bats fifth and plays right field in his season debut in Atlanta. 

Sometimes one hitter can make a lineup look much different. Altherr's presence in the middle of the Phillies order provides them with three power hitters, something they've seldom had this season. He provides some protection out of the five-hole for Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco, who precede him.

Cesar Hernandez remains in the leadoff spot for the Phillies after going 3 for 4 with a walk Wednesday to raise his batting average to .290. 

Cody Asche may soon lose playing time as the Phils' outfield picture gets more crowded, but for now his lineup spot appears safe. With Peter Bourjos on the DL, Asche gets the start in left field and bats eighth.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Carlos Ruiz, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Cody Asche, LF
9. Aaron Nola, P

Phillies reinstate Aaron Altherr, place Peter Bourjos on 15-day DL

Phillies reinstate Aaron Altherr, place Peter Bourjos on 15-day DL

The player who was projected to be the Phillies' opening day rightfielder and No. 5 hitter is finally ready to play. The Phils on Thursday reinstated outfielder Aaron Altherr from the disabled list after he missed the season's first 103 games with a wrist injury.

Altherr takes the 25-man roster spot of Peter Bourjos, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a right shoulder sprain.

Altherr, 25, impressed with power late last season, hitting .241/.338/.489 for the Phillies with 11 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 22 RBIs in 161 plate appearances. 

He tore a tendon sheath in his wrist on a diving catch attempt early in spring training, had surgery and missed about four months in total. The Phils were patient with Altherr during his rehab assignment, giving him the full 20 days before making the decision to add him to the active roster. In 13 games at four different levels during the rehab stint, Altherr went 14 for 41 (.341) with two doubles, a homer and seven walks.

Bourjos injured his shoulder running into the wall at Marlins Park earlier this week. The injury will keep him from being traded ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline, but Bourjos could be moved in August. He hit .410 in June but was slumping before the injury, hitting .148 over his last 14 games.

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

MIAMI — Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon issued an apology on Twitter addressed primarily to his young fans as he returned from an 80-game suspension for a positive drug test.

"I know I let you down, and I'm sorry," Gordon said in a video. "Complacency led me to this, and I'm hurt. I urge you guys to be more responsible than I am about what goes into your body. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Gordon, who won the NL batting and stolen base titles last year, was reinstated before Thursday's game against St. Louis.

Gordon tested positive for two performance-enhancing substances and was suspended in late April. Gordon acknowledged in April that he unknowingly took the banned substances.

Marlins president David Samson said then that the second baseman had betrayed the team and its fans. On Wednesday, Samson said the Marlins are glad to have Gordon back.

"I believe that America and our fans and our players and us, we're a pretty forgiving society," Samson said. "It's important Dee ask for that forgiveness, and he has, and he'll receive that. He's got to continue to work to get himself back in with his teammates and the fans and my son."

In his video, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Gordon said he learned from his mistake.

"I thought being the smallest guy I would never fail a drug test," he said. "I didn't pay attention at all and I didn't meet the standards. That's my fault and no one else's. But don't give up on me."

To make room on the roster for Gordon, the Marlins designated for assignment infielder Don Kelly, who had two triples in Sunday's victory. Even without Gordon, the Marlins have remained in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003.

Last year Gordon batted .333, stole 58 bases, became an All-Star for the second time and won his first Gold Glove. The season earned him a $50 million, five-year contract in January.