Rio Ruiz returned to work last weekend for the Quad-Cities River Bandits, appreciating every opportunity to step into the batter’s box.
The third baseman then returned to form in games against Peoria, belting a two-run home run Sunday and following that with a three-hit game Monday.
“He makes the most of every at-bat, which is what we’re looking to see,’’ Quad-Cities manager Omar Lopez said.
A strained oblique forced Ruiz to spend 10 days earlier this month on the disabled list, a minor setback compared to the one which denied the 18-year old a chance to compete last spring as a high school senior at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif.
Ranked as one of the top-30 prep players in the nation a year ago after batting .455 as a junior at his San Gabriel Valley high school, Ruiz was regarded as a potential first-round draft pick.
Things changed a year ago in March when Ruiz began to feel a tingling sensation in his right arm during a game in the middle of the month. A week later, his arm was completely numb.
Doctors eventually discovered a blood clot in his clavicle, near his right armpit.
Initially, there was uncertainty as to whether the promising prospect would ever play again.
“To have that all taken away, it was a jolt,’’ Ruiz said. “But it was a real possibility.’’
Further examination of the clot doctors believe had formed over a period of more than a year in a sensitive area resulted in a determination that the situation was not career-threatening. But it did force him to miss the remainder of his senior season.
Ruiz underwent surgery a few days later and was placed on blood-thinning medication. He continues to wear a compression sleeve on the arm as a way to encourage blood flow and is regaining the power which made him a valued prospect.
Before the situation was discovered, Ruiz had signed a letter of intent with USC, and the school told him it would honor its scholarship offer even if he could not play.
But Ruiz wanted to return to the diamond, and the Astros gave him that opportunity, selecting him in the fourth round of last June’s draft.
Splitting time between the Gulf Coast League and short-season Greeneville, Ruiz hit a combined .252 over 38 games last season while working mostly as a designated hitter.
He worked during the offseason in anticipation of making the River Bandits’ roster coming out of spring training, and he earned a spot on Lopez’ opening-night lineup card.
“I spent a lot of time in the offseason lifting to build strength and prepare myself for a full season. I put myself through a lot in order to get ready for this,’’ Ruiz said.
“After having my senior season taken away in high school, I want this year to be a good, solid season, something I can build off of into the future.’’
Ruiz is making strides.
“He’s putting a lot of work into his game, and he is starting to see the dividends,’’ Lopez said. “It is not something that happens overnight, but he is working at it.’’
That work includes time spent in the field, where Ruiz is working to improve his foot speed and gain quickness as a defender.
He is working with Lopez, River Bandits baserunning development specialist Vince Coleman and Adam Everett, Houston’s minor-league infield instructor, to improve his game in that area.
“I feel like I’ve picked up a lot already from them, and I’m sure that will continue,’’ Ruiz said. “I knew coming into this year that I had work to do, and I’m working every day to take that next step and get the stuff down that I need to get down to compete.’’