Phillies' Carlos Ruiz honoring late friend
The catcher recently lost a longtime friend from Panama, Nicolas Miranda, who died after complications from surgery.
NEW YORK - About two weeks ago, during the Phillies' previous homestand, Carlos Ruiz woke up at 6 a.m. to the buzzing sound of his cellphone.
It wasn't an alarm. Instead, it was the news he feared would come at some point in the last four months.
Nicolas Miranda, a close friend of Ruiz's since boyhood, had died after complications from surgery. Miranda was the same age as Ruiz, 36, and shared the same hometown: David, Panama.
Ruiz is honoring his late friend by wearing "44" on the bill of the helmet he wears under his catcher's mask. He also has "MIRANDA #44" emblazoned on his wristbands.
Miranda wore No. 44 as a shortstop in Panama during his youth, where he played alongside Ruiz, a second baseman who was converted to catcher after signing with the Phillies in 1998.
"We played together for 10 to 12 years," Ruiz said yesterday morning. "It's hard, because we didn't have the chance to talk. I knew he was sick."
Miranda first became ill in late January, around the same time Ruiz reported to Clearwater, Fla., to begin spring training. Ruiz tried to keep up with Miranda's wife throughout his friend's ordeal.
"I was on the phone with her throughout spring training," Ruiz said. "There were good days, and there were bad days, too."
Ruiz is wearing his late friend's number as a small gesture of remembrance. Ruiz is a godfather to one of Nicolas Miranda's two sons, Javier and Nicolas.
Like his late father's good friend, Nicolas Miranda is a professional baseball player. The 18-year-old infielder signed with the Houston Astros in early February, just weeks after his father became ill.
Aside from the generous compensation, being an All-Star closer on a losing team is not an envious position.
A month ago, Jonathan Papelbon went 11 days between save opportunities (April 27 to May 8). When he took the mound yesterday afternoon in New York, it was Papelbon's first appearance in seven days.
Manager Ryne Sandberg's usage of his closer came into question in the final two games on the just-completed 10-game road trip, when Papelbon appeared in only three games.
Following the Phillies' 5-4 loss in 10 innings on Tuesday, Sandberg was asked whether he considered bringing in Papelbon at some point. The Phils had claimed a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning, and the teams were tied when the Mets batted in the ninth and 10th innings.
Instead of using Papelbon, who is earning $13 million this season, Sandberg put the game in the hands of Jeanmar Gomez and Elvis Araujo in the final two innings.
Sandberg's explanation? He was going by the (imaginary) book - major league managers have long turned to their closers only when they have the lead in the ninth inning or later on the road, or in a tie game in the ninth or later at home.
"There was no experiment going on," Sandberg said Tuesday. "You've got to have a closer if you get the lead somewhere. Then you get burned the other way. It was piecing it together with the guys in the right spots."
The decision looked a lot worse less than 24 hours later. With the Phillies trailing, 7-0, Sandberg turned to Papelbon to pitch the eighth inning of yesterday's lopsided loss to the Mets.
The appearance gave Papelbon his 18th game finished of the season. The 34-year-old closer needs only 30 more games finished in the final four months for his $13 million option for the 2016 season to vest.
Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million contract before 2012 that included a $13 million vesting option for a fifth season. The option vests if Papelbon finishes 55 games in 2015 or a total of 100 games in 2014 and 2015.
Papelbon finished 52 games last season.
Triple A lefthander Joely Rodriguez entered last night's start against the Gwinnett (Ga.) Braves on a nice run: He was 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA in his previous three starts. Rodriguez, acquired in the December trade that sent Antonio Bastardo to Pittsburgh, could be an option if Sean O'Sullivan continues to struggle. O'Sullivan served up four home runs in yesterday's 7-0 defeat in New York and has a 2.41 home run rate (home runs per nine innings) in six starts . . . No Phillies players appeared on the first round of National League All-Star balloting results, released by Major League Baseball. Only the top five players at the infield positions and catchers were listed, along with the top 15 outfielders. Washington's Bryce Harper led all NL players with 1,116,582 votes . . . Cole Hamels (5-3, 2.98 ERA) takes the mound opposite Colorado righthander Chad Bettis (1-0, 4.19) when the Phillies begin a nine-game homestand against the Rockies, Reds and Giants. Hamels is 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last four starts.