Whatever it was that happened in October, when Ryan Rua packed away baseball for the rest for the year, it was done after consulting with the Texas Rangers’ general manager and without reserving himself a room in the manager’s doghouse.
It was far more innocent than what has been portrayed. Rua went to Arizona at the club’s request to continue workouts in case he was needed at some point in the postseason. He then passed on a chance to play in the Arizona Fall League to catch up on at-bats after an injury-marred season, but he had perfectly reasonable reasons.
Rua was about to become a husband and a homeowner, and his wisdom teeth need to be extracted, all things that are a big deal even for baseball players. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Rua wanted to get 2015 as far out of his mind as he could.
Never before had he been through as season so loaded with expectations only to come no where close to matching them.
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So, he punted, and it might turn into the best decision of his career.
With his head cleared and his ankle healthy, Rua is one of baseball’s hottest hitters this spring. He took a .500 average (12 for 24) into the opener of the Big League Weekend at the Alamodome on Friday, and he also took his first baseman’s glove.
That glove could ultimately be what gets him to Globe Life Park for Opening Day as the Rangers look to versatile players as they attempt to shape their bench to open the 2016 season. If that means playing only a few times a week at multiple positions, Rua said that he’s ready.
45 Games played, in the minors and with the Rangers, at first base for Ryan Rua
“It’s definitely a mindset,” he said. “If that’s how it works out, if I’ve got to come off the bench every once in a while and play a couple times a week, I’ve got to be able to do it and stay consistent.
“In spring training some times you play the first five inning or you play the last three or four. I try to treat those situations where I come in late in the game differently because I’ve never really done it before.”
Rua is charging toward the roster from well back in the field even though he was the Opening Day left fielder in 2015. But with the way his season ended and with who was added to the roster, Rua entered camp as a long shot.
Justin Ruggiano was signed to hammer left-handed pitching in a platoon with Josh Hamilton in left field, and Ian Desmond was signed to play left field after Hamilton’s knee became even more of a liability. Rua, though, wasn’t thinking about his odds.
“I came in the same way I did last year, coming in to try to compete for a spot,” he said. “I’m just trying every day to put myself in a situation to help the team win. Once you get up there, the main goal is winning. Selfishness is out of it.”
To Rua, that means accepting a part-time role as an occasional left fielder when Desmond needs a day off and as a complementary piece to the left-handed hitting Mitch Moreland at first base.
Rua might have an advantage for the Opening Day roster because of his vast experience at first base relative to Ruggiano, who has never played the position. Rua played all four infield positions as some point in the minors, logged nine games at first base in 2014 for the Rangers as a September call-up, and has 45 games at first as a professional.
Ryan Rua underwent surgery April 17 after injuring his ankle and foot April 10 while leaping into the left field wall during the Rangers’ home opener. He didn’t return from the disabled list until June 19.
But he entered last spring as the favorite to be the regular left fielder, and his eighth-inning single on Opening Day kept the Rangers from getting no-hit by Sonny Gray at Oakland.
Rua’s first full big league season never got going, as he suffered an injury to his foot and ankle during the home opener and was placed on the disabled list for two months. When he came back, left field was being occupied by Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton, and the Rangers decided the best thing for Rua would be regular at-bats at Triple A.
That didn’t go well either, as Rua hit .206 with Round Rock after the demotion, and he finished batting only .193 for the Rangers.
No wonder he wanted a break from baseball.
“The year I had was something I’d never experienced, both getting injured and not living up the standards of the way I’ve played in the minor leagues,” Rua said. “It was more of a clear-my-mind kind of off-season.”
He started at first base Tuesday, going 3-for-4 while playing all nine innings, and was there again Friday against Kansas City. He’s getting looks at first because his bat has been so hot.
I just feel really comfortable. I’m just feeling myself throughout the count and putting myself in good hitting positions. My leg kick’s not as high this year. I’m trying to get my foot down earlier and see the ball longer. I think that’s helped me tremendously.
At the plate, he has lowered his leg kick and his trying to work himself into favorable counts. At first base, the former infielder feels comfortable on the dirt and has shown the coaching staff that he is capable there.
If the Rangers want a right-handed-hitting first baseman on their roster, Rua could have the edge over Ruggiano, who in December signed a one-year major league deal worth $1.65 million and is out of minor league options.
“Rua’s much more comfortable than I think Ruggiano would be at this stage,” manager Jeff Banister said. “It’s not a matter of Rua not being comfortable. Rua has it in his bag being able to play multiple spots, and he seems to be more comfortable at that spot than any other spot on the field.”