Big series has Ruiz primed for extended stay

Big series has Ruiz primed for extended stay

ATLANTA -- Rio Ruiz was distraught last week when the Braves opted not to promote him from Triple-A Gwinnett after Adonis Garcia was placed on the disabled list. But when Freddie Freeman fractured his left wrist the next day, Ruiz was given an opportunity that has positioned him to remain Atlanta's primary third baseman even after Garcia is activated.

Ruiz is far from a finished product, as there remains some concern about his strikeout rate, struggles against left-handed pitching and some defensive limitations. But as the 23-year-old third baseman recorded a career-best three hits during Thursday afternoon's 9-4 loss to the Pirates, he gave the Braves further reason to believe he has at least earned the right to extend his development at the big league level.

"Is there room for growth? Yes, absolutely," Ruiz said. "But I'm happy with my first homestand up here. I was glad I was able to help by getting some knocks."

Ruiz tallied his first career home run at the expense of two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on Saturday and exited Thursday with a .320 average (8-for-25) through his first eight games with Atlanta. As he went 5-for-9 with a double during the final two games of the Pirates series, he essentially erased any lingering thoughts about the possibility of making an immediate return to Gwinnett's roster.

"He had a good homestand," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He swung that bat really well. We'll just keep running him out there."

Garcia is slated to spend this weekend playing three rehab games for Gwinnett. If his previously sore left Achilles cooperates, there's a chance he could be activated from the DL on Monday or Tuesday. But when he returns, he might no longer serve as Atlanta's primary third baseman -- a role Garcia has held for much of the past two seasons.

If Ruiz remains at the big league level, he will not be used as a backup. Thus, he could serve as the left-handed-hitting portion of a platoon with Garcia, whose presence could at least provide some much-needed power potential to the bench.

Garcia ranks last among MLB's 27 qualified third basemen in both fWAR (-0.5) and Weighted Runs Created Plus (65). But from an offensive perspective, he would certainly strike more fear in an opposing pitcher than either Emilio Bonifacio or Danny Santana.

By choosing to keep Ruiz, the Braves would give themselves a chance to strengthen their bench from an offensive perspective by parting ways with either Bonifacio or Santana. Ruiz's defensive limitations were visible again during Thursday's series finale against the Pirates. His throwing error influenced the five-run second inning endured by Bartolo Colon, who will temporarily remain in the rotation, despite producing a 8.25 ERA over his past seven outings.

When the Braves acquired Matt Adams from the Cardinals this past weekend, they showed they were committed to remaining competitive in Freeman's absence. To extend that commitment, they may have to soon make a tough decision regarding Colon and also decide whether they are indeed best served with Ruiz as their primary third baseman.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.