By Jon Weisman
You’d think it would be a little late in the game for a 33-year-old with 12 seasons as a professional to surprise anyone.
“I think at this point, people have the book on me,” Justin Ruggiano acknowledged today. “I don’t think I’m catching anyone off guard.”
Maybe we should be conditioned to expect the unexpected.
After doubling on the first pitch of Sunday’s 4-3 victory over Arizona and later knocking a single, Ruggiano is 8 for 19 with a 1.053 slugging percentage as a Dodger. That’s right — he’s averaging at least a base per at-bat.
Though he has hit as many as 18 homers in a season (2013 with the Cubs), Ruggiano hasn’t stopped looking to improve. Significantly, that includes his first fortnight as a Dodger.
“I think the moment you become a non-improving player is the moment you’d be out of the game,” Ruggiano said today. “There’s always something to be done. Since I’ve come over here, I’ve worked on a timing mechanism with the hitting coaches that has really helped me stay on the ball and kind of clear up my vision of the ball. And I think that’s actually contributed to a lot of the success I’ve had the past two weeks.”
Acquired the night of the August 31 trading deadline, Ruggiano already has almost as many total bases with the Dodgers (20) as he had in 36 games this year with Seattle (25).
After going 0 for 3 against Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in his Dodger debut September 1, Ruggiano singled, homered and doubled as a pinch-hitter in his next three games.
“I just think I was put in situations to (make a difference) and came through in a couple of them and kind of gained confidence,” he said.
In fact, Ruggiano has extra-base hits in six of his past seven games. He also hit a leadoff homer and a double September 8 against the Angels, followed by a ninth-inning grand slam September 11 at Arizona.
It’s sort of amazing to think that barely two weeks ago, he was biding his time with the 68-76 Triple-A Tacoma Raniers.
“Coming over here was kind of a fresh start for me,” Ruggiano said. “When you’re playing for something, it kind of rejuvenates you. There’s a big opportunity over here right now to do something special in the playoffs. For me, that’s kind of what baseball’s all about. I’ve always enjoyed playing for something end of the season instead of counting down the days and looking forward to fantasy football.”
Getting involved in any pennant race is bound to be meaningful, but doing so for the team that drafted him 11 years ago gives the moment a little extra special sauce.
“To me, it felt special,” Ruggiano said. “This team is pretty close to my heart because of the fact that they gave me an opportunity in 2004. When I heard it was this team and this is where I was going, I was really excited.”