Keibert Ruiz’s first at-bat showed a patience that was needed — then went back to old Keibert

For Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez, he didn’t mince words when he showed his emotions in discussing the poor plan of some of his batters in the Texas series. Maybe Keibert Ruiz, a notorious first ball swinger, got the message as he put together an 8-pitch at-bat in his first plate appearance in Friday’s game after not swinging at the first three pitches fall to a 1-2 count. Yes, he flew-out on the 8th pitch — but he also ran up Yusei Kikuchi‘s pitch count. We had seen Nats innings recently that went 1-2-3 quicker than an 8-pitch inning.

By pushing Kikuchi early and often, the Nats knocked him out of the game at exactly 100 pitches, and the Nats got into the Blue Jays bullpen earlier than the average of 6.8 innings in the Texas series, and that average would have been much higher if Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t injured in the beginning of the 6th inning on Thursday.

As Stever20 commented, “Anyone but Kikuchi,” and he was so right. As soon as Erik Swanson, a middle reliever, entered — the Nats took advantage by putting on two runners before Martinez installed some Luis Luis into the game with no outs. On the first juicy pitch that Luis Garcia Jr. saw from Swanson, the Nats pinch-hitter crushed the center-cut pitch over the center field wall for a 3-run homer. On most nights, the 104.7 mph missile on a 25 degree angled line drive would have carried much further than 402 feet, but on this chilly night in the low 60’s and a steady 9 mph wind blowing in from right-to-left kept the ball from a sure thing. Fortunately, the location was the right spot to get it over the lower part of the wall. It turned out to be the game winner.

“We’ve got to start working better at-bats. Start seeing a little bit more pitches. We’re going up there, and it’s swing, swing, swing, swing. We’ve got to start working counts a little better.”

— manager Dave Martinez said in Texas

But Ruiz wasn’t fixed, because in his second at-bat with runners on the corners and one out, Kikuchi dotted the bottom of the zone — and of course Ruiz reverted back to his old self, and rolled over a tailor-made grounder for a double play ending an inning that looked so promising.

Fortunately, Garcia sent the Nationals Park crowd home happy with his heroics, and that Ruiz double play can be a learning experience. While some would say but…but…but Garcia was first pitch swinging. Well, it was a Broadway meatball that was sent into Central Park.

So yes, there is an asterisk that you can hunt a first pitch ambush if it is down the middle on a tee. If you miss it, you certainly open yourself up for criticism, and that is how the game works. Best to be an unpredictable hitter. Don’t give the other team a scouting report that they can use against you like everyone has against Ruiz. The great players, like Juan Soto, have no glaring weaknesses. You take your chances with the great ones that if you throw a pitch over the plate that catches too much strike zone that they will punish the pitch.

The Nationals are tied for 16th in baseball in taking walks at 103. Better than you would expect. Joey Gallo led the team until he went on the 10-day IL with 15 walks, and Jesse Winker just tied him. Third on the team in accepting ball-4’s is CJ Abrams. No other Nats’ batters are in double-digits. Garcia and Ruiz have a combined nine walks.

So yes, there is work that needs to be done going forward — and we saw the best and worst of Ruiz over two at-bats yesterday in having a plan walking into the batter’s box in that first at-bat and then the plan was gone again. As Nationals’ play-by-play voice Kevin Frandsen would often say on taking a low-pitch, “that was a double play ready to happen if he swung at that.” Ruiz did just that in his second at-bat, and that has to be a learning moment in a first pitch of an at-bat. At least we can hope.

Patience is a virtue.

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