Now Catching... Paul Hoover

(Photo: Philly Baseball News)

Carlos Ruiz is technically listed as day-to-day with a strained knee ligament, but being day-to-day is the good news. Should things turn worse, Paul Hoover is the catcher of record for the Phillies. So, how much trouble - if any - does that present for the Phillies lineup?

You can't possibly deny that Carlos Ruiz has been a huge part of the Phillies this season. Not only has he been his usual steady self behind the plate, but Carlos Ruiz has come up big at the plate as well. His .345 average and league-leading .472 on-base percentage out of the eighth spot in the Phillies lineup have been huge. And as always, pitchers on the Phillies staff have credited Ruiz with helping their success thanks to his game-calling skills. If Ruiz is out for any amount of time, there aren't a lot of options for the Phillies to consider behind the plate. This is the sort of time where prospect Lou Marson would have fit in nicely for the Phillies, but he's already in the majors with the Cleveland Indians. The other true catching prospects in the organization are all in the lower levels of the minor leagues, nowhere near ready for a major league tryout. Paul Hoover joined the club when Brian Schneider was placed on the DL over the weekend. It was figured that he wouldn't see much playing time since Ruiz was on such a role both defensively and offensively. Instead, he entered the game Wednesday afternoon after Ruiz injured his right knee while running the bases. Hoover immediately showed some of what he's made of behind the plate when he was able to block a pitch in the dirt and keep it close enough to block a runner from third who was trying to score on the play. Hoover made the play by basically just throwing himself in front of the plate, sacrificing his body in order to make the play. Hoover isn't a complete stranger to the majors, having played 31 major league games with Tampa Bay, Florida and with the Phillies last season when he got into three games late in the season. Those games have come since 2001 when Hoover first reached the majors as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Overall, Hoover has been playing professional ball since 1997 after the Rays took him in the 23rd round of the '97 Draft. While he's a .264 career minor league hitter, much like Ruiz, Hoover's known for being a tough player behind the plate and also knowing how to handle pitchers. Since they're not familiar with Hoover, Phillies pitchers will need to have time to adjust to him behind the plate. It won't be too surprising though if Hoover quickly earns their trust, since he's a hard and smart worker. Hoover may have already started to prove himself with that play at the plate to cut off a run in a close game and for the most part, he'll have a veteran staff to work with, which is something he hasn't always had the opportunity to do in the minors. "I think if you talk to a lot of the pitchers on this team, they'll tell you that they trust him back there." said Hoover's manager at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Dave Huppert, earlier this season. Huppert was right. Many of the pitchers on the 'Pigs staff do trust Hoover to help them out when they're on the mound. Drew Carpenter, who has been on Lehigh Valley's roster and worked with Hoover in each of the past two seasons has plenty of good things to say about his battery mate. "I like working with him. He's confident back there and always in control of the game, so you can just relax and not worry about it if you throw a pitch in the dirt or something," explained Carpenter when he was asked about Hoover's abilities after an outing this season. Hoover has never been known for his offense, so the Phillies will almost certainly miss Ruiz' bat in the lineup and aren't likely to get as much offense out of Hoover. For a player who is hitting .269 on the season, Hoover's numbers in key positions are impressive. With runners on base, Hoover is hitting .290 on the year and when those runners are in scoring position, Hoover is hitting .294 as a member of the IronPigs. Hoover's numbers last season were even better in those key spots. As a .253 hitter, Hoover excelled when there were runners on-base, hitting .304 with runners on and .302 when there were runners on with two outs. With runners in scoring position, Hoover hit .290 and when they were in scoring position with two outs, his average jumped up to .296 in the minors. While he's not an offensive juggernaut, he at least has the ability to come through in key situations on a regular basis. Obviously, the hope is that Ruiz' day-to-day situation allows him to return to the lineup sooner rather than later. With veteran Brian Schneider on the DL, an injury to Ruiz couldn't have come at a worse time. It's unlikely that the Phillies will want to swing a quick deal to bring in a catcher from another club and any remaining free agent catchers would need time in Clearwater to get into playing shape. The Phillies have Dane Sardinha and John Suomi at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Sardinha has played 31 major league games - the same as Hoover - with Cincinnati and Detroit, but Suomi has gone only as high as Triple-A and has just 52 games to his credit at that level.


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