READING — After a long day in the Florida sun the last several weeks, Carlos Ruiz would retire to his hotel room and tune in to see how his once and future team was doing without him.
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” the Phillies catcher said, leaving unclear whether the difficult part was not being able to participate — or whether it was just hard to watch the product the team has put on the field over the season’s first four weeks.
If the difficulty was simply watching the Phillies play without him, that will end Sunday, when the popular 34-year-old rejoins the team in New York after his 25-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy.
If it was the way the team have been playing … well, he hopes to help change that as well.
“We’re not playing good baseball right now,” Ruiz said Friday before the first of his two rehab games with Reading at FirstEnergy Stadium. “When I come back I want to do my best and see what I can do.”
“There’s no question we’re struggling and more than anything else he brings a lot of leadership to our club,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said of Ruiz’s impending return. “Particularly last year, I think Chooch stepped up as more of a leader on the club, and I think having him back there [behind the plate] and adding his energy will help us. It certainly can’t hurt us.”
Ruiz, who played two games with Single-A Clearwater earlier this week, made the first of two scheduled appearances with Double-A Reading on Friday night before a supportive crowd of 8,110 at FirstEnergy Stadium. Hitting third, Ruiz was 0-for-4 with two flyouts, a groundout and a line out to second in his final at-bat.
“I feel great,” Ruiz said. “I feel good behind home plate, [and] for me that’s very important. Hitting, I think I tracked the ball better the last two at-bats, so I feel real good.”
Coming off an all-star season in which he set career-highs in 10 offensive categories including average (.325), home runs (16) and RBI (68), Ruiz was suspended in November for testing positive for Adderall, a banned stimulant prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.