Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has been pretty liberal with assigning lineup spots this year, with his willingness to ride the hot hand meaning that nine different players have hit cleanup through 152 games.
It doesn’t mean much to third baseman Rio Ruiz that he’s in the No. 4 spot after appearances at the top of the lineup early in the season. But it’s pretty clear that he deserves to be hitting in such a spot, especially since his newfound aggression in the strikezone has made him one of the club’s most productive hitters since the All-Star break.
“I’ve been more aggressive,” Ruiz said. “I think I’ve been more aggressive with pitches in the zone, and that translates to a little bit more chase, too. I have been chasing a little bit. But as long as I’m aggressive in the zone, I think that’s all that really matters.”
While Ruiz’s return to the majors Aug. 10 after a two-and-a-half week stay in the minors is an easy demarcation point for his surge at the plate, he was starting to find his form even before that.
Ruiz hit .235 with a .635 OPS in the first half of the season, and a 1-for-3 effort with a triple Tuesday night brought him into Wednesday’s game batting .250 with an .845 OPS since the All-Star break. His first-half wRC+ (weighted runs created), a measurement of each offensive event in context with that year’s overall offensive scoring environment and ballpark factors, was 69, but it’s been 115 since the break. (100 is league average.)
His swing rate hasn’t gone up on pitches in the zone, but his production on those pitches has tremendously, according to MLB’s Statcast data from Baseball Savant.
Ruiz hit .253 with a .246 wOBA (weighted on-base average, a version of on-base percentage that accounts for how a player reached base) and a .323 slugging percentage on pitches in the zone before the break and is batting .319 with a .407 wOBA and a .667 slugging percentage on pitches in the strike zone since.
“Coming up, I’ve always taken my walks,” Ruiz said. “I’ve always nibbled, and balls that I think are just off are actually strikes, and vice versa. But instead of that, I’ve kind of just tried to get pitches in the zone and take a whack at it.”
That aggression is what Hyde has noticed most in Ruiz’s improvement.
“A little more confidence, a little more aggressive with his swings,” Hyde said. “We’re starting to see a little bit more power. But I think you’re seeing him more comfortable in a major league batter’s box, and when he’s getting a pitch to drive, he’s putting a really good swing on it. He’s swinging the bat confidently the last few weeks.”
Harnessing this production for a full season in 2020 could change Ruiz’s outlook for the Orioles, as he’s already been a well-rated defender at third base and will still be 25 years old on Opening Day. He’s not overlooking what’s left of this season, though.
“I’m still trying to continue to work like I have all year,” Ruiz said. “We have two weeks to go, and our record says we’re eliminated completely, but a lot of guys still have a lot of things that they’d like to do and finish off with. I think that’s just a good thing for our whole entire team. If everybody’s on the same side and wants to finish strong, then I think good things can happen.
Around the horn
Outfielder Mason Williams, who ran into the center field wall in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s loss, had no concussion symptoms but had a sore left knee that kept him out Wednesday. … Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa will start for the Orioles on Thursday, with Friday’s series-opener against the Seattle Mariners set to be a bullpen game.