Opportunity pays off for Miami Marlins’ Justin Ruggiano

The odd man out in a game of musical outfielders, Justin Ruggiano cashed in on playing time Sunday with two homers.

06/25/2013 12:01 AM

07/31/2014 5:15 PM

Justin Ruggiano was having trouble making sense of the logic to the point where he finally gave up trying to understand. Ruggiano was the Marlins’ leading home run hitter and top RBI man on a team that ranked dead last in the majors in scoring and home runs.

And he wasn’t playing.

“That’s why this game is confusing sometimes,” Ruggiano said.

By early June, Ruggiano became the odd man out in a game of musical outfielders, with first hot-hitting Chris Coghlan and then — upon the return of Giancarlo Stanton from the disabled list — rookie Marcell Ozuna squeezing him out of the picture.

He wasn’t happy, but he kept it to himself.

“I wasn’t complaining,” Ruggiano said. “But, yeah, it’s been frustrating. This game can eat you alive because it can be so discouraging.”

It can also turn in a hurry, as Ruggiano discovered Sunday.

One day after going 0 for 5, Ruggiano — much to his surprise — found himself back in the lineup and responded with two home runs in the Marlins’ 7-2 victory over the Giants to help cap off the team’s first winning road trip since May 2012.

Manager Mike Redmond left the 30-year-old in the lineup and had him batting in the leadoff spot because, as he told reporters before the game, he had a hunch Ruggiano might get ahold of a Matt Cain fastball and launch it for a home run.

On Cain’s second pitch of the game, Ruggiano did exactly that.

“It’s funny because I really wasn’t even expecting to be in the lineup when I showed up [Sunday] morning, and there I was,” he said. “So you never know.”

Ruggiano now has a team-leading 11 home runs. Strangely enough, he has hit each one on the road.

With the Marlins returning for a six-game home-stand, Redmond has a lineup decision to make. Does he keep Ruggiano in the leadoff position after his big day at the plate? Or does he return Juan Pierre to his customary spot atop the lineup card?

Redmond could mix and match the two, based on the opposing pitcher.

Ruggiano said he has learned to accept whatever role he is given. It was only a few weeks ago that he wasn’t sure what to make of the situation.

Though he had the best power numbers on a team starved for power and trailed only Pierre in stolen bases, he also had a batting average that was hovering just over .200 and an on-base percentage below .300. Last season, he finished with a .313 average in 288 at-bats.

He said a shoulder injury he sustained toward the end of last season was also giving him problems from time to time.

“I tore some things in there,” Ruggiano said of the injury, which occurred in mid-September when he dived for a ball at Citi Field in New York. “I don’t want to say it caused a different swing, but it really has been. I do some one-arm drills and those hurt. I’m trying to find a happy medium with how much you can do.”

This much is certain: Ruggiano doesn’t want to become a piece of furniture, sitting on the bench and collecting dust. With Coghlan on the DL, he would like to prove his value to the team, as he did Sunday at AT&T Park.

“Any competitor just doesn’t want to sit back and collect a paycheck,” Ruggiano said. “You want to know what your role is and go out and perform your job. That being said, I’m not taking it for granted when I’m playing every day.”

• Henderson Alvarez moved closer to his return to the Marlins when he pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday in a rehab start for Double A Jacksonville. Alvarez, who has spent the entire season on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, gave up only three hits while striking out six in the outing. He also hit a three-run home run.

Alvarez might make one more rehab start in the minors. Or, if the Marlins trade Ricky Nolasco, he could be activated immediately and inserted into the rotation.

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