8:28 PM EDT, April 27, 2013
PHILADELPHIA — Charlie Manuel doesn't want Carlos Ruiz to feel like he has to be the savior when he comes back.
To that, I say, "Good luck, Chooch."
With the way the Phillies played in their first 23 games, how can the Phillies catcher, who led the team in hitting a season ago, not feel pressure to provide a much-needed lifeline?
Ruiz, returning today from his 25-game suspension after testing positive for Adderall, a stimulant banned by Major League Baseball, joins a team whose offense has some of the worst stats in the National League and a pitching staff that's in need of stability.
"Hopefully he comes in and realizes there's other guys on the team besides him and he's relaxed and he goes up and hits just like he always has," Manuel said.
If the Phillies are lucky, Ruiz will help them climb out of the rut they're in.
Here's a sampling of some of the most troubling stats through 23 games:
•Hit into 22 double plays, tied for the most in the NL
•Struck out 188 times, third-most in the NL
•Owned a .301 on-base percentage, fourth-lowest in the NL
•Hit just .125 with the bases loaded, 14th in the league
•Averaged only 3.50 runs per game, 24th in MLB
There are times when Phillies hitters look lost at the plate, especially when there are offspeed pitches coming their way. Other times, they've had pitchers primarily throw them fastballs and they simply couldn't hit them. That creates more concern when this is a team known for being a fastball-hitting team.
Manuel knows he's being blamed for their offensive woes. It's not the first time. It won't be the last.
He'll be the first to tell you before a game things need to change. After games, he'll reiterate his point. But he doesn't want to hear about any player pointing the finger at him.
"You're the guy doing the hitting," he said. "So don't come by and blame the hitting coach or the manager for your hitting. If somebody buys into that, well that's a bunch of bologna. I ain't never seen a manager messed up a guy's hitting, or a hitting coach, as far as I know."
As much as the Phillies want Ruiz's bat to re-appear, his dependability behind the plate and familiarity with the pitching staff is almost just as necessary.
The catcher certainly isn't as responsible as the pitching staff for the ups and downs they've had, but there's a reason Roy Halladay has praised Ruiz to the end of the Earth and back. Catchers, whether it be the way they call a game, how they frame a pitch, their ability to make in-game adjustments or their demeanor, have more of an affect on the game and the pitcher than we realize.
Erik Kratz has done an admirable job back there. But don't think these pitchers, the starters and the relievers, haven't been counting the days until Ruiz's return.
"I think we're doing fine with the other two guys," pitching coach Rich Dubee said of Kratz and Humberto Quintero. "I would think they're regarded as backup catchers for a reason. It's like bench players are bench players for a reason.
"We're more than happy to get Chooch back."
If you don't believe Dubee, take a look at some of these numbers through the first 23 games:
•Starters' ERA: 4.10, 9th in the N.L.
•Relievers' ERA: 4.65, 12th in the N.L.
•Relievers' BAA: .264, 14th in the N.L.
•Starters' HRs allowed: 19, most in the N.L.
•Relievers' HRs allowed: 6, 9th most in the N.L.
•Starters' slugging percentage against: .398, 7th highest in the N.L.
•Relievers' walks: 29, tied for 4th most in the N.L.
•Relievers' WHIP: 1.48, highest in the N.L.
After Cole Hamels' ERA ballooned to 10.97 after his second start, he has posted a 2.57 ERA in his last three games, which lowered his season ERA to 5.40. He's throwing more strikes and locating his pitches better.
But moreso this year than in the last couple of years, Hamels has snapped his glove, walked around the mound slowly in the middle of an at-bat and given a couple of unfriendly glances at home plate umpires. There were moments when his mound presence reminded me of the 2009 Cole Hamels.
Dubee said there's nothing to that. I disagree.
Dubee did, though, admit there's a comfort level for his pitchers with Ruiz that is unmatched with Kratz or Quintero.
"They've been through more with Chooch," Dubee said. "There's more experience, more recall there. So of course there's probably more of a comfort zone. He knows how to calm guys down and when to slow the game down. They know he's prepared. But I think the other thing is he exudes confidence in them. He's vocal enough that he keeps them aware during the course of a game."
FILING FOR SUPPORT
The run support the Phillies are giving each of their three best pitchers, who are making a total of $64.5 million this year, is significantly below the league average of 4.1. Roy Halladay's sits at 4.0; Cliff Lee's is at 3.5; Cole Hamels' is a measly 2.8.
As a result, the Phillies aren't winning many of the games those guys are pitching, and that's a problem. The Phillies are 4-11 in the combined 15 starts they have made. They have yet to win a Hamels start.
"I'd have to say maybe four or five years ago that would've been frustrating, but I know what I can control and what I can't," Hamels said. "I'm able to go out and execute pitches, pitch deep into the ball game, obviously try to limit the damage to keep the team in an area of being able to jump on it and get a win. That's all I can do. It's a lot easier to move on and get prepared for the next game."
Overall, Phillies starting pitchers have received 3.4 runs of support, which is tied for 10th-lowest in the National League.
8.10: Average number of runners the Los Angeles Dodgers have left on base this year, which leads the National League. Through their first 21 games, they stranded 170.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Phillies have had 19 position players pitch for them, and it's happened just four times since 1986. … The Phillies haven't had two 20-game winners in the same season since Grover Alexander (33) and Eppa Tixey (22) did in 1916. … Phillies pitchers have thrown combined one-hitters 10 times. … The most pinch-hit home runs in a single season by a Phillie is five (Gene Freese in 1959 and Matt Stairs in 2009). Laynce Nix already has two this season. … Dmitri Young, who played in the majors from 1996-2008, and Delmon Young are brothers.
CATCHING UP WITH FORMER PHILLIE … Shane Victorino, who is the Red Sox right fielder. Victorino, who signed a free-agent deal with Boston over the winter, is hitting .292 with eight RBIs and three stolen bases.
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