Ruiz ready for next step

Carlos Ruiz went 1-for-5 with a sacrifice fly today in his second game in extended spring training. (Michael Bryant/Staff file photo)

CLEARWATER, Fla. – When Carlos Ruiz returned to Bright House Field after playing in his second straight extended spring game, something had changed in the clubhouse. Two lockers to the right of the one the Phillies rehabbing catcher was using was a new nameplate – Oswalt – and a nice, clean Clearwater Threshers uniform with No. 44 on the back.

Yes, it looks like it’s all starting to come together.

Ruiz had a half dozen plate appearances against a ragtag lot of Pirates minor leaguers today. He had a single and a sacrifice fly but, more importantly, had better at-bats.

“He swung the bat much better,” said Roly D’Armas, who managed the Phillies squad. “He hit the ball hard four times.”

In his first game since going on the disabled list with lower back inflammation, Ruiz went 0-for-4 with three pop-ups and a strikeout on Tuesday.

“I felt much better today,” he said. “I hadn’t faced hitters for awhile, so I wasn’t as comfortable. I had better swings.”

The next step is to catch 6 or 7 seven innings tomorrow night when the Phillies top Class A affiliate plays Palm Beach, including being behind the plate when Roy Oswalt makes a tune-up start after missing more than two weeks with a sore back and also returning to Mississippi to help his family clean up tornado damage in his home.

All-Star second baseman Chase Utley (patellar tendinitis in right knee) is also expected to start, giving the minor league lineup a distinctly big-league look. While there is no official timetable on Utley’s return, all indications are that he’s in the home stretch of rehabbing an injury that has sidelined him all season.

Utley rested today after playing in an extended spring game on Monday and for the Threshers on Tuesday.

Ruiz, who caught five innings on Tuesday, was the designated hitter today and took himself out of the game after his 6 plate appearances, but not because he aggravated his injury.

“Six was enough,” he said. “That’s what we discussed when I left. There was a schedule for all three days I’d be here and they told me whatever I felt comfortable with today, 6 or 7 or 5. So that seemed right. It was good. I feel real good. I’m ready to go.”

Barring an unforeseen setback, Ruiz plans to fly to Atlanta  on Friday morning and catch against the Braves. And it appears that Oswalt, who is scheduled to start next Tuesday, and Utley may not be far behind.

To read our earlier post on the Phillies' offense, click here.

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