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How will the Orioles handle the vacated roster spot of Rio Ruiz?

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Ruiz has gotten a large chunk of playing time at third base this year for Baltimore and his bat was starting to turn around in the month of July. But now he is bound for Norfolk.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

So apparently Rio Ruiz had an option left. The 25-year-old third baseman — who up to this point has spent the entire season with Baltimore — was demoted to the Norfolk Tides after yesterday’s game. Yet guys like Chris Davis, who’s hitting .184, and Richie Martin, who’s hitting .183, remain on the roster. Yes, the big difference is that Ruiz had an option. But still, c’mon man.

Ruiz has appeared in 88 games for the Orioles this year, including 288 plate appearances. Over that time, he has hit .239/.307/.336 with eight doubles, one triple, five home runs, 27 RBI, 26 walks and 65 strikeouts.

His platoon splits on the year are eerily similar, although being a left-handed hitter, he’s collected quite a few more plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. In 233 PA against righties, Ruiz has hit .240/.318/.356. In 55 PA against lefties, he’s slashing .235/.259/.255.

The first three months of the season, Ruiz produced batting averages of .228, .250 and .210. But July has actually been his best month so far, with a .297/.325/.459 slash line in 41 PA, which makes his demotion all the more perplexing.

Through 101 games, Ruiz has posted a 2.0 UZR in 79 games at third base. That’s the highest UZR of all the Orioles’ 2019 infielders and the only other player on the roster with a higher mark in that category is Anthony Santander in right field (2.3). Ruiz has also appeared in a handful of games at first base.

But the only other players on the roster to have played third are Hanser Alberto (-1.5 UZR), who has appeared in 39 games at the hot corner, and Renato Nunez, who has played three games there but has no 2019 third base UZR value listed on FanGraphs currently.

For a team that places a lot of value on defense — at least in spring training and the early part of the season — it’s surprising to see the Orioles remove their second best fielder from the 25-man roster. And considering that he’s played more games with the big league club than Santander this season, there’s an argument to be made that Ruiz is the club’s top overall defender.

It’s been more difficult for Ruiz to crack the lineup recently, seeing that he’s started six of the past 12 games since the Orioles came back July 12 from the All-Star break. With the Orioles having played their previous series in a National League park and losing the DH, the hot-hitting Renato Nunez stayed in the lineup by starting two of the past three games at third base. Interesting timing to say the least, considering that this series marked the first start all season that Nunez has had at third.

Is this a harbinger of what’s to come with Ruiz in the minors — more Nunez at third? Maybe Alberto gets a bump in playing time at the hot corner, seeing as he’s got the most appearances there after Ruiz. A platoon between Nunez and Alberto is tricky though, considering they both hit right-handed. That’s another reason Ruiz was valuable in such a scenario.

Switch-hitting Stevie Wilkerson could be a playing time beneficiary here as well. He hits better from the left side of the plate anyway, with a .789 OPS as opposed to a .400 OPS batting right-handed. But he’s also played a lot more center field than infield with the O’s this year and the only infield position at which he’s appeared is second base. In his minor league career, Wilkerson has appeared in 55 total games at third.

With this latest roster move, the Orioles have five infielders, not counting super utility man Wilkerson. They are carrying 13 pitchers, but the way they have pitched this year it would not be surprising to see them call up another arm and go with a three-man bench for awhile.

Ever since Hunter Harvey was promoted to Triple-A and put into the bullpen folks have been speculating that we could see him sometime this summer. But he’s currently sporting an 8.22 ERA in 7.2 innings in Norfolk. Could it be Ryan Mountcastle’s time? Mike Elias has repeatedly shut that down, opting to not rush anyone.

Whoever does get promoted in place of Ruiz, there’s a good chance they’ll be shuffled out before too long for another player.

A new wrinkle this whole situation was introduced with the following tweet from one of the Orioles’ beat writers:

This would seem to imply that the demotion and the impending birth of Ruiz’s child could be somehow related, and to speculate further, that he may be brought back up in the not-too-distant future.