The Philadelphia Phillies lineup saw minimal changes through the first 15 games of the regular season, with both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the batting order together in April for the first time since 2010.
Of course, all the Phillies had to show for these returns was a 6-9 record after April 17 and a 6.5 game deficit behind the Atlanta Braves in first place.
Following their 15th game of the season, the Phillies decided to move Jimmy Rollins back into the leadoff spot and Ben Revere to the seventh spot. Since the move, Rollins’ average has gone from .232 to .258, while Revere’s average has increased from .194 to .207, including a .240 average from the seven hole.
These changes haven’t led to much to much more success as of yet, as the Phillies are now 3-5 since moving Rollins back into the leadoff spot.
However, on Sunday, the Phillies will have another lineup decision to make with hopes of improving the team’s .301 OBP, which ranks as the third lowest in the National League, and 80 total runs scored, which ranks as fifth lowest.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz is set to return from a 25-game suspension, which he served for testing positive for a banned stimulant, on Sunday in time for game No. 26 of the season.
Ruiz’s return will also give manager Charlie Manuel a few more options for a lineup that recently saw Chase Utley and Michael Young move up in the batting order.
For the majority of this season, the Phillies have had four consecutive left-handed batters at the top of their order against right-handed pitching (causing Rollins to bat from the left side). Rollins is batting .246 from the left side, compared to .292 from the right side.
Young, who has primarily batted fifth, was the first right-handed batter that other teams faced at times.
When Laynce Nix started over John Mayberry, Jr. in right field, the Phillies lineup only had two right-handed batters at times, with either Erik Kratz or Humberto Quintero joining Young in the batting order.
With Ruiz back in the lineup, the Phillies will have the option of batting Young third and Ruiz fifth, likely leaving no more than two left-handers batting in consecutive spots in any part of the batting order.
Ruiz is coming off of the best statistical season of his career after he batted .325 with 16 home runs and 68 RBI in 2012, all career highs. Ruiz also posted a .394 OBP, an improvement over his .371 mark in 2011, despite drawing 19 fewer walks.
The chances of Ruiz batting above .300, let alone .325, this season are slim, but his return could still play a crucial part in helping to boost an offense that is now under pressure to succeed before first place it too far out of reach.
If Ruiz can match, or exceed, the .265 batting average he had from the fifth spot in the lineup last season, and Domonic Brown can continue to regain the form he showed during spring training, the Phillies lineup will potentially have a pair of power hitters lower in the lineup.
Add in Delmon Young to the mix, with Revere potentially batting eighth, and the Phillies lineup will have undergone the last few changes it can using internal options.
Ruiz’s return will also mean that a player currently struggling to find consistent offensive success will move to a reserve role.
Phillies catchers have combined to have the fourth-lowest batting average in the National League so far this season, and have the lowest OBP in the league. Kratz is currently batting .185 with 16 strikeouts to 12 hits, while Quintero is batting .313 but has played in just six games.
Although solid work behind the plate initially could have outweighed any early offensive struggles, the Phillies now find themselves seven games out of first place before the first month of the season has ended.
Ruiz’s return should lead to an offensive upgrade by putting his bat in the lineup and also by moving either Kratz or Quintero primarily into a reserve role. Although Ruiz only had one hit in two games in a High-A ball tuneup recently, his one hit was a three-run home run. He also did not strike out in his eight at-bats.
It’s not often that a team adds a .300 hitter from the prior season to their lineup in late April, but the Phillies will be doing just that when Ruiz returns on Sunday.
More importantly, they will be adding a right-handed batter to a lineup that primarily features left-handed batters against opposing right-handers at a time when any sustained offensive success has been difficult to find.
Whether he bats fifth, sixth or even seventh, Ruiz will give the Phillies a potential power addition as they chase down a first-place team whose season has featured anything but a lack of early power.