Catcher providing leadership on young Mariners squad
By Greg Johns
SEATTLE -- He carries himself with a stern professionalism that garners respect from teammates, a man whose resume speaks louder than his quiet words.
When Carlos Ruiz speaks, Mariners manager Scott Servais notes, everyone listens. And on this day, amid the pregame clubhouse din, the eyes lock in on the questioner and a smile crinkles the corner of his mouth as he ponders the upcoming trip back in time.
Ruiz is nearing the end of his playing days. At 38, he's fighting to produce at the plate the way he's always done in the past. His batting average sits at .115 in 26 at-bats in limited time for a Seattle club off to a 15-17 start. But his 12-year Major League career has been filled with magical moments, and most of them came in Philadelphia, where the Mariners are headed for a two-game Interleague series Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I have a lot of memories from there," Ruiz said. "I remember my first day when I got called up. I remember winning the World Series. That's the whole goal. Catching on all those teams, I had a great time, and I can't wait to go back and see all my old friends and teammates. It'll be special."
Ruiz caught four no-hitters with the Phillies. He played in an All-Star Game, had the walk-off hit in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series (a Fall Classic that brought Philadelphia its first championship since 1980) and hit .341 in the '09 playoffs when the Phils again advanced to the World Series before losing to the Yankees.
So, yeah, the man they call "Chooch" had this series circled on his calendar since being dealt by the Dodgers -- who acquired him last August after 11 seasons in Philly -- to the Mariners in November.
"When I got the call that I'd been traded to Seattle, I checked the schedule and said, 'Oh, there's two games in Philly,'" Ruiz said. "I can't wait. I'm excited. But at the same time, I'm very happy to be here and be part of this team."
Ruiz's role has increased in the past few days with the Mariners, who sent starting catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A Tacoma on Friday to see if he can find his hitting stroke after struggling through the first month.
Ruiz will split time now with 33-year-old Tuffy Gosewisch, who was called up from Tacoma to take Zunino's spot. Seattle wants to give Zunino a chance to hit the reset button, and nobody understands that better than Ruiz, who counseled the 25-year-old through Spring Training and the first month of play.
"He's a great kid and does a heck of a job behind the plate," Ruiz said. "I was the same way when I was younger. We've had conversations about trying to stay relaxed and just play. When you put so much pressure on yourself, it makes it hard. I believe he's going to be OK. He'll put it together and be fine. He's a kid who likes to work hard, and I hope he's back here soon."
Ruiz is a career .265/.351/.391 hitter, but it didn't always come easily.
"I definitely had struggles when I first came up," Ruiz said. "We won the World Series in '08 in my second [full] year and we tried so hard to put the offense together. I hit .219, but .308 in the playoffs, and we won the championship by playing together and working hard."
The Mariners value Ruiz's veteran leadership, but Servais thinks there's more to it. Though Ruiz is at the stage where it's tough to play in back-to-back games, he will fill a bigger role until Zunino's return.
"I still think he's got some things to offer on the field," Servais said. "He was a pretty good hitter throughout his career and he's had some decent days when we've fired him up. He hasn't had a whole lot of luck."
Neither has Seattle with a series of difficult injuries. But young players have stepped up and the Mariners have won seven of their past 11 games. And Ruiz has done his part as a mentor whenever possible.
"I believe in these guys 100 percent," Ruiz said. "That's the process. Communicate with them, make them feel relaxed and just let their talent come out."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.