At Triple-A Las Vegas last year, the big man from the Bronx hit .320 with 25 homers, 43 doubles and 106 RBIs en route to the Pacific Coast League Player of the Year Award. In 33 games after being promoted to Toronto, Ruiz hit .313 with 10 homers and 17 RBIs. In Puerto Rico this winter? Try .347 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 32 games.
So, why should anyone be surpised at what he’s doing this spring?
In the first inning on Sunday, Ruiz stepped into the batter’s box at Dunedin Stadium with the bases full of Blue Jays. What’d he do? Only rip a pitch from Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman, sending it well over the left-field wall for a grand slam. Through five spring games, Ruiz is only hitting .615.
“He certainly has a chance to make this club if he keeps swinging like that,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said.
Helping Ruiz’s cause is the condition he arrived in this spring. Before the offseason, Gaston and the Jays sat down with Ruiz and told him he should show up to Spring Training lighter if he was serious about earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. All Ruiz did was shed 22 pounds while balancing winter ball and an offseason move to Las Vegas.
“In the past, I used to always eat heavy foods and just go to sleep,” Ruiz said. “That was one of the major no-no’s now that my trainer said not to do. And it’s working. I feel different, I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve lost so much weight. I feel better, but I feel different. I’m not used to being this light.
“I’ve always been heavy my whole life. But, this is what I had to do. These guys wanted me to come into camp and be ready and get lighter and I have to do what they want.”
Ruiz is essentially competing against fellow first baseman/designated hitter Brian Dopirak for a spot on the Blue Jays’ bench. Toronto has three bench jobs open: a backup catcher, a backup outfielder and a backup first baseman. Gaston likes Ruiz a lot, but is not ready to say he’s a lock to make the cut.
“There’s not much room here,” Gaston said. “I’m not saying he’s on the club, but he certainly has a good chance of making it.”
Gaston paused and smiled.
“Keep hitting grand slams.”
BIRD FEED: RHP Dustin McGowan is scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. … LHP Brett Cecil (cut left thumb) will throw in a bullpen session on Monday and is scheduled to log two innings in a “B” game on Wednesday. … Also scheduled to pitch in the “B” game: Brandon Morrow (3 innings), Josh Roenicke (1-2 innings), Marc Rzepczynski (3 innings). … Scheduled to pitch on Wednesday: Lance Broadway, Kyle Drabek, David Purcey, two innings each; Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, Zach Jackson, one inning each. … The Jays have reassigned RHP Daniel Farquhar, C Travis d’Arnaud and C Matt Liuzza to Minor League camp. … Gaston noted that LF Travis Snider’s focus at the plate right now is on getting into fastball counts and working on hitting that particular pitch. … 2B Aaron Hill went 2-for-2 with a walk on Sunday. He has reached base 10 times in 11 plate appearances this spring (6 walks, 4 hits). … OF Jose Bautista (playing third while 3B Edwin Encarnacion sits with a tender left wrist) belted another leadoff homer for the Jays on Sunday. He’s hitting .636 this spring. … CF Vernon Wells hit his first homer of the spring, a two-run shot that went into the trees above the left-field wall in the second inning on Sunday. … Frasor, Gregg, Downs, Shawn Camp, Farquhar and Rommie Lewsis each logged one inning on Sunday. Only Gregg allowed a run, surrendering a homer to Detroit’s Gerald Laird in the fourth. … LHP Brian Tallet made his spring debut and allowed four runs on four hits, including two homers, in two innings. Tallet is being given every chance at making the club as a starter. The lefty said he’s focusing on his curve this spring in an effort to improve his showing against left-handed hitters. … Due to pitch on Monday in Kissimmee against Houston: Ricky Romero (3 innings), Dana Eveland (3 innings), Chad Jenkins (1-2 innings), plus Zach Stewart, Merkin Valdez, Zech Zinicola and Willie Collazo. … Zinicola and first base prospect Brett Wallace were college teammates at Arizona State.
QUOTABLE: “The locker room here has a really good vibe. It’s really good mojo in here. It’s fairly young and the older guys are really open to talking. They’re not going to bust your chops or make you be quiet for two years before they talk to you or something. They’re really cool. I dig it here.” — Zinicola, who joined the Jays as a Rule 5 pick in December
Opening Day Predictions: Part 2
Every Saturday from now until the end of camp, I plan on including my current predictions for the Opening Day roster. Fave games into the Grapefruit League schedule, here is who I believe will be among the 25 players headed north:
PITCHERS — Starters: Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero Brandon Morrow, Brian Tallet, Marc Rzepczynski. Relievers: Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson, Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo
POS. PLAYERS: John Buck, Jose Molina, Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, Alex Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Jeremy Reed, Vernon Wells, Jose Bautista, John McDonald, Joey Gathright, Randy Ruiz.
CHANGES: Travis Snider removed. Jeremy Reed added.
REASONING: It’s very early and I expect Travis Snider to bounce back from a subpar week and ultimately work his way back onto this list. That said, Snider needs to show improved plate discipline, cut down down his strikeouts and show he can handle lefties in order to convince the Jays to hand him a full-time job in left field. Gaston won’t put Snider in a platoon situation, so it’s Triple-A Las Vegas to open the year unless Snider can impress Toronto this spring. If Snider needs more time to develop, Reed might head north to open the year.
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