With Carlos Ruiz out, Erik Kratz must fill in

With Carlos Ruiz out, Erik Kratz must fill in

February 16, 2013, 9:45 am
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CLEARWATER, Fla – Erik Kratz didn’t expect it to unfold this way. No one did. How could they? How could anyone predict his narrative to change so drastically and suddenly?

You know his story by now. He was a career minor leaguer. Before last season, the catcher – who will turn 33 in June – played 11 total Major League games for the Pirates and Phillies. For a while, he said he thought that’s how it would go for him – he’d ride buses in the minors and hope to get a call-up now and then. It wasn’t what he wanted. What he wanted was to be a big league catcher, but he was prepared to live the life he knew.

What he wasn’t prepared for, not really, was what happened last season. He got the call-up he hoped for, but this time it wasn’t a temporary gig. Kratz played 50 games for the Phillies last year. In games he started, the Fightin’s went 23-15.

From late July through early August, Kratz started 23 games, hitting .300, with five homers, seven doubles and 13 RBIs. If you add in his stint at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Kratz had 17 home runs last season – a career high.

“I think I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some type of difference in how you’re perceived in baseball, per se, because I have had some success in the big leagues,” Kratz said. “But I can’t sit here and say, 'That’s great, I’m going to ride this for a while.' It’s over. It’s done. Hopefully, next year, we can say ‘Wow, you had a much better season than you did the season before.’”

After that kind of performance, Kratz seemed like a safe bet to be the team’s backup catcher this season. He’ll have to do more than that now. In October, Carlos Ruiz was suspended by Major League Baseball for taking Adderall, a banned substance generally prescribed by doctors to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Ruiz addressed his situation and his suspension on Wednesday). Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season as a result, which means Kratz has been pressed into starting again out of necessity.

“There’s a lot more games than 25 games,” Kratz said. “If I only prepare for 25 games, I’m doing the team and myself a disservice. I’m looking at it as more than 25 games.”

For the first time in his career, Kratz will begin his season on a Major League roster. Until Ruiz returns, he figures to be joined by Humberto Quintero, whom the Phillies signed as a minor-league free agent in November. Filling in for Ruiz until he returns won't be easy. Ruiz had his best season a year ago. The 34-year-old hit .325 with 16 home runs, 32 doubles and 68 RBIs. He was also named to his first All-Star team.

“It was disappointing,” Kratz said about his initial reaction to Ruiz’s suspension. “Any time you lose a teammate for an extended period of time, injury, suspension or anything, that’s disappointing. You want all 25 of the best guys we can have out there. He was an All-Star last year. He has tremendous play on the field, but his leadership in the clubhouse is huge too. It’s like any other teammate that you lose, it sucks.”