On Friday, Aug. 9, Rio Ruiz was called up from Triple-A Norfolk. On Saturday, he homered. On Sunday, he homered again - and this time, it was a walk-off, capping off an 8-7 win over the Astros, one of the best Orioles wins of the season.
Here we are, nearly a month later, and the good times have continued to roll for the 25-year-old.
Since getting the call up from the Tides, to whom he was optioned on July 24, Ruiz has seen his fortunes at the plate improve. His average isn’t any better - he was batting .238 at the time of his demotion, and he’s hit .231 since for an overall average of .237.
His power numbers, however, have been a different story. When he was sent down, Ruiz was slugging .335, leading to an OPS of .640. Since his call-up, however, he’s slugged .577, for an OPS of .899.
This is no longer a hot weekend or a couple of good series in a row. This has been over the course of a whole month, during which Ruiz has played 21 games and come to the plate 59 times. He’s homered five times in 52 at-bats; he had hit five home runs in 260 at-bats at the time of his demotion.
He’s done it without the benefit of lucky breaks. His BABIP - batting average on balls in play, in case anyone still needs that spelled out - was .298 after he played his last game in July. Since returning, Ruiz’s BABIP has been .219. What that suggests is that Ruiz has been less likely to get the bloop hit or seeing-eye single since he’s returned than before.
And yet, his offensive performance has improved across the board. His slugging and OPS numbers have jumped, indicating he’s hitting the ball harder, and his on-base percentage has increased 16 points despite his batting average dropping seven, indicating he’s showing more patience.
Ruiz has also bounced back from a slump that seemed to throw a bucket of ice water on his resurgent return. After going 6-for-17 (.353) over his first seven games back, Ruiz went 2-for-23 (.087) over the next nine games. He’s shown signs of life again lately, though, going 4-for-12 (.333) over the five games from Sept. 3 to today.
And yet, the irregularities continue. The average has gone down while the power has gone up, the BABIP has dipped while the OPS has risen, so maybe it just makes sense that Ruiz has shown most of his power at points in the count when he’s struggled most to get on base.
As our own Nick Cicere pointed out in his recent story on Ruiz, a more aggressive approach has better fitted the third baseman, and the stats have continued to bear that out through August and the first week of September. Since his call-up, Ruiz has been at his best when jumping on pitches early in the count. He’s batting .400 on the first pitch, and 5-for-13 (.385) when putting one of the first two pitches in play. As the pitch count goes up, the stats dip down - once the count has reached three pitches, Ruiz has gathered only five hits in 29 at-bats for a .172 average.
Ruiz’s power, however, has tended to wait around. Three of his five home runs have come on two-strike counts, where he’s been hitting .214 (6-for-28) overall. Five of his eight extra-base hits have come in the same situation. He’s 2-for-11 with a 1-2 count, and both were doubles. He’s been 2-for-8 with a full count, and both left the ballpark.
All of this makes it hard to pinpoint just what Ruiz is doing differently, what has been the key to his success, and what it was he picked up in Norfolk to have an easier time at the plate in his Oriole return. Has it been a newfound aggressive mentality at the plate? The power numbers don’t suggest it. Has it been more patience at the plate? Perhaps, but he’s made most of his outs the more he’s worked the count.
Or maybe there isn’t a trend. Maybe Ruiz has just gotten better at hitting in its simplest form: identifying the pitch to hit, whenever in the count it comes, and putting the barrel of the bat on it.
It’s only been a month and roughly 60 at-bats, but the team has to like what it’s seeing. And who knows, maybe Ruiz is earning himself a longer look as the Orioles prepare for the next phase of their rebuild.