A day after Rio Ruiz experience the thrill of his first major league hit – a triple, no less – the Braves third-base prospect was in the starting lineup for the first time Thursday in a series finale against the Phillies.
Braves interim manager Brian Snitker stuck with a nearly identical lineup for nearly six weeks since rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson was called up on Aug. 17, and Braves players and Snitker believe that having a set lineup has been beneficial and a contributing factor to the team’s improved offense.
“I think that probably coincides with us starting to do better as a team,” said Snitker, who took on May 17 after Fredi Gonzalez was fired as manager. “When I first got here it was mix and match, and every day there was something new. A lot of pieces didn’t fit. It’s been kind of, especially one through five, and six, have been pretty steady. Well, really the whole thing has been pretty stable for a while.”
For this last homestand, Snitker made a few lineup changes during the Phillies series to give rookies some playing time. He said the Braves would revert to their regular lineup for the season-ending three-game series that starts Friday against the Tigers.
Snitker wanted to get outfielder Mallex Smith three starts and has, one at each of the outfield positions in the past three games. He gave Daniel Castro a start at second base Wednesday — Castro responded with three run-scoring singles — and Snitker also wanted to Ruiz to get a start in his first major league call-up.
Ruiz, 22, had a good season in his first year in Triple-A and the Braves are bullish on his future. Snitker made it clear, however, he thinks Adonis Garcia’s performance in his first full major league season assures Garcia would be the likely favorite to keep the third-base job next spring.
Asked what it would take for Ruiz to make the opening-day roster, Snitker said, “He’d have to set (spring training) on its ear, probably. He’ll get a lot of time there. Adonis, to me he’s shown this year, both offensively and defensively, that he’s our third baseman. We go to spring training next year, to me, if I’m the manager or whoever’s the manager, I would think he’s going to go in with sights on being our opening day third baseman. Until somebody takes it way from him.”
Snitker said Ruiz in spring training “needs to come in with the mindset that I’m going to win a job. And if he doesn’t he’s still young kid, and if he goes back to Triple-A it’s not the end of the world. Probably be good for him.”
He added that after Ruiz’s lackluster season in Double-A in 2015, “It was a stretch putting him in Triple-A, but Coppy (general manager John Coppolella) was big on him – ‘you know what, he’s one of our young players and we’re going to put him (in Triple-A).’ It was the right call. And he responded and had a real solid year. Are there things he can work on? Absolutely. But he did a great job holding his own and staying competitive in that league.”
Garcia has thrived hitting in the second spot in the order, but with Ruiz in the lineup Swanson moved up from the bottom part of the order – he’s hitting mostly eighth – to the second spot Thursday. It wouldn’t be surprising if Swanson is in that spot as early as next season.
“He profiles as (a No. 2 hitter), I think,” Snitker said of Swanson. “It’s kind of like where we’re at now. Adonis has done a really good job there, but if you had him back down below to drive more runs in it wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.”
“Getting Dansby (regular playing time for the past six weeks) has been huge,” he added. “Since we got him he’s been able to experience the league and everything that’s been going on. He hasn’t disappointed at all. He’s been really, really good.”