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Ruiz emerges as a hitter, too

The Phillies catcher can work the count as well as working with the pitching staff.

"I can do the same or better," Carlos Ruiz said of improving his skills at the plate this year. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
"I can do the same or better," Carlos Ruiz said of improving his skills at the plate this year. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)Read more

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - For the last few seasons, his pitchers have extolled the value of Carlos Ruiz's defense. The soft-spoken Panamanian has taken to the role of curator to some of the game's best pitchers. Now they even make video game commercials about Ruiz's pristine game calling.

"That's what I've always tried to work at," Ruiz said. "Calling the game, that's my job. But at the same time, with hitting, I would like to put my name right there, too."

The 32-year-old catcher certainly did that in 2010. He was the only regular to bat .300. He led the team in on-base percentage with a .400 clip in 433 plate appearances.

"I can do the same or better," Ruiz said Monday.

His selectiveness at the plate is suddenly needed in this Phillies lineup. For the third straight season, Ruiz walked more times than he struck out. Ruiz saw 4.22 pitches per plate appearance in 2010, ranking seventh in the National League (minimum 400 plate appearances).

Without Jayson Werth and now Chase Utley, the Phillies lose a great deal of patience in their lineup. Werth led the National League with 4.37 pitches per plate appearance and Utley was 31st with 3.99. Werth led the team in walks and Utley was third.

Besides Ruiz and Raul Ibanez, the rest of the lineup is mostly made up of free swingers.

"Someone who walks a lot, that's just like hitting a single," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That definitely helps you accumulate more runs."

It was an unusual comment about on-base percentage from a manager who is a hitting coach at heart and rarely preaches walking. The manager has often used that Earl Weaver refrain, saying he loves the three-run home run, but these Phillies will probably rely on the long ball fewer times in 2011. On-base percentage could be crucial for a team expected to play in many low-scoring games.

Ruiz's jump in on-base percentage was mostly based on his 112 hits in 2010. But Manuel said batting eighth and seventh has taught Ruiz patience. It resulted in a few more walks, but more important, better pitches to hit.

"That's one of the things he definitely learned about, his hitting," Manuel said. "But also, the better he hit, the more confident he got, the better he felt taking pitches. He's not up there to walk, but at the same time, he's more selective. He's getting good balls to hit in the strike zone."

Placed in context, Ruiz's 2010 season was beyond impressive. Consider this: Since 1901, a catcher in the National League with at least 433 plate appearances has had a .400 OBP or better just 17 times, according to Ruiz is one of them.

"If you hit eighth, you have to be patient because the pitcher is on deck," Ruiz said. "So you have to look for a good pitch to hit. Batting seventh, you can be a little more aggressive."

In 2011, Ruiz could be hitting seventh more while Utley is out with knee tendinitis and Wilson Valdez is in the lineup, batting eighth. Manuel said he doesn't expect where Ruiz is batting to make a difference, but the catcher said he was pitched around fewer times while batting seventh because the pitcher wasn't directly behind him.

The numbers support Ruiz's aggressiveness. In 2010, his plate appearances were split almost evenly between batting seventh and eighth in the order. Six of his eight home runs hit were from the seven hole. His OPS was nearly 200 points higher when batting seventh.

Regardless, Ruiz said he has one mind-set when he goes to the plate.

"You have to take a lot of pitches," Ruiz said. "You have to work the count. You have to go deep in the count. That's my job."