The Philadelphia's Phillies steady Panamanian catcher was finally back in the starting lineup Sunday evening after a 25-game suspension for using a banned amphetamine.
Carlos Ruiz, an All-Star last season, batted fifth and went 1 for 4 with a double as the Phillies beat the New York Mets 5-1 to complete a three-game sweep. He said he was glad to be back with the team and had put the penalty behind him, though it was hard to watch Philadelphia play without him because he felt as though he wasn't doing anything to help.
"I feel like I had very good at-bats today and made good contact, so that was big for me," Ruiz said.
Philadelphia opened 11-14 minus Ruiz, who said supportive teammates kept in touch with him via text messages throughout his suspension.
With his regular batterymate behind the plate for the first time this season, Phillies ace Cole Hamels overcame six walks to earn his first win of the year Sunday.
"It's huge. He's been our leader," Hamels said. "Just kind of excited to have him back. Just to kind of make our lineup feel more complete I think is huge."
Affectionately known as "Chooch," the 34-year-old Ruiz had a career year in 2012 when he batted .325 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs in 114 games. He missed a little more than a month with a foot injury.
Ruiz's suspension was announced on Nov. 27 following his second positive test. An initial positive for a stimulant does not trigger a suspension, only that the player must undergo follow-up testing.
The catcher apologized in a statement, saying he was "sincerely regretful" for his mistake "in taking a prohibited stimulant." He apologized to teammates and fans again at spring training.
Ruiz reportedly tested positive for Adderall, an amphetamine commonly used to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Asked on Sunday whether he took any steps with Major League Baseball to get an exemption for his medicine, Ruiz said: "I don't know, man. I don't have anything to say about that."
Ruiz was eligible to participate in spring training, including exhibition games. He was hit on the left wrist by a pitch in an extended spring game April 19, but X-rays were negative and he said he is healthy.
"I feel great. For me, that's very important," said Ruiz, looking squat and strong. "Now I'm here and I'm going to help every day."
Ruiz played four minor league rehab games as his suspension was winding down. He drove up to New York on Saturday night from Pennsylvania, where he played a pair of games with Double-A Reading.
"The last two games I felt great," Ruiz said. "I played a lot of innings down there."
Even on the road, Ruiz was greeted Sunday with a chorus of "Choooooch" as he stepped into the box for his first at-bat. One fan held up a sign welcoming him back, and he reached on an error by Mets third baseman David Wright.
In the final season of his contract, Ruiz said he was looking forward to his family in Panama being able to watch the game.
"Chooch is a big player in our lineup," manager Charlie Manuel said.
To make room on the Phillies' roster, backup catcher Humberto Quintero was designated for assignment.
Erik Kratz got most of the playing time behind the plate while Ruiz was out. Kratz was hitting .191 with two homers and seven RBIs in 68 at-bats, while Quintero batted .250 with no homers and two RBIs in 20 at-bats.
"I was real happy when I saw my teammates," Ruiz said after the game. "They were excited to see me here in the clubhouse."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.