Phillies Giving Ruiz Quality Time

Many young players get their first shot at playing in the majors because of an injury to a front line player. Of course, not too many of them come to the majors and see significant time in the lineup in place of that player. Carlos Ruiz is one of the exceptions.

Catcher Mike Lieberthal has had his best start to a season since 2003. In Triple-A, Carlos Ruiz had been even better.

Lieberthal's encouraging opening month took a 15-day hiatus thanks to a bone bruise on the outside of his left knee, an injury suffered when Braves starter John Thomson drilled him with a pitch Thursday night. In order to replace Lieberthal on the 25-man roster, the Phillies recalled Ruiz from Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, where he was hitting .385 with six homeruns and 18 RBI in 91 at-bats.

The Phillies were debating before Friday night's game against the Giants whether to place Lieberthal on the disabled list, or to option a reliever to the minors and go with six arms in the bullpen until Lieberthal recovered. However, after speaking to the medical staff the Phillies decided that since Lieberthal could need a week or more to heal completely, the best bet was to keep the pitching depth.

The decision disappointed Lieberthal a bit, but he conceded that it was going to take more than a couple of days for him to get his modest mobility back.

"When it happened I didn't sense that it would be a couple of weeks," said Lieberthal, who is hitting .297 with seven RBI. "I knew I couldn't play (the rest of the night) when I ran to second. This morning I didn't really feel much better. There was no chance of playing the next couple of days.

"They decided to 'DL' me. I didn't want to go, but they didn't want go without a pitcher for a week."

Lieberthal said that perhaps the only thing that saved him from a fractured bone was the neoprene sleeve he wears on the knee.

"I've never had anything like this. I've never had anything to that side of the knee," said Lieberthal, who has had five knee surgeries over the course of his career. "It's disappointing because we have been playing well. I was feeling good and the team was playing well."

As for Ruiz, he was at Citizens Bank Park by mid-afternoon in anticipation of a move. Ruiz saw very little action during spring training because he played for Panama in the World Baseball Classic, and once he returned the Phillies were watching C/IF Chris Coste tear up the Grapefruit League and knew that Ruiz wasn't going to be a factor because a sore throwing shoulder had limited his time behind the plate in Triple-A last season.

Manager Charlie Manuel said that Ruiz is going to see some action.

"He's a good prospect," Manuel said. "He'll get to know the pitchers. I'll put him in the game."

Even though Manuel had talked up Ruiz, the Phillies' track record with playing young players wasn't good and there were no guarantees that Ruiz would see quality time behind the plate. Instead, the Phillies have shown their fans that youth is being served and Ruiz has gotten starts in two key spots. Saturday night, with a struggling Ryan Madson on the mound, Ruiz was in the starting lineup. Then, Tuesday night, with the first place New York Mets coming to town and having Pedro Martinez as their starter, Ruiz was again behind the plate. In fact, he picked up his first major league hit against Martinez. Manuel said there's just something that he likes about the way Ruiz plays. "I think he did a pretty good job the other night. I felt like he did very good," said Manuel of Ruiz' first major league start. "Ruiz is a pretty good hitter. I look at him, he stays on the ball. I don't mind putting him up there to hit. But I also like the way he caught the other night. I like his energy."

While the Phillies certainly miss Lieberthal's reenergized bat in the lineup, letting Ruiz see a little action isn't the worst thing in the world. After all, there were many who felt that the signing of Sal Fasano was unnecessary because Ruiz was ready to be Lieberthal's backup at the major league level. Many of those same people believe that Ruiz is fit to keep the catcher's spot warm until Jason Jaramillo – who is now playing at AA Reading – is ready to have himself put into the Phillies lineup as their catcher of the future. That day is at least a year away and with Lieberthal being in the final year of his contract, somebody will be needed to fill the gap between the two catchers.


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