This 2012 season has been abysmal for the Philadelphia Phillies. We all know that. We've all seen it. But one of the bright spots in a season full of disappointment has been the play of the masked men, the catchers.
We've already talked about Carlos Ruiz and his spectacular season, morphing into arguably the best all-around catcher in the National League at the ripe old age of 33. When Chooch went down with plantar fasciitis, it became another dark cloud over the Phils.
Enter Erik Kratz, the 32-year-old rookie catcher who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and is now shining for his hometown major league franchise.
Prior to this season, Kratz had a grand total of 11 major-league appearances and 40 at-bats. The career minor-leaguer had a nine-game cup of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, then saw action in two games last season for the Phillies. That was the extent of his major-league résumé, going 6-for-40 with a double and one RBI in those two abbreviated stints. Basically, Erik Kratz wasn't even an afterthought to the Phillies with Ruiz firmly entrenched as the starting catcher and veteran Brian Schneider as the backup — he wasn't a thought at all.
But a funny thing happened to the team that last won a record number of games and finished with the best regular-season record in baseball. The Phillies stumbled out of the gate, suffered untimely injuries and saw their season spiral out of control. And when Schneider and Ruiz joined the list of banged-up veterans, Kratz got his number called. The Telford native and Christopher Dock High School graduate was finally going to get a shot to play more than a handful of games, and he wasn't about to let it slip through his fingers.
All Kratz has done since is impress, batting .295 with a .375 on-base percentage, 1.113 OPS, 7 home runs, 16 RBI and 6 doubles in just 61 at-bats. Last night, he blasted yet another home run to give the Phillies a momentary 3-2 lead in the fourth inning before the Reds came back, though the Phillies ultimately defeated the Reds 12-5 behind John Mayberry's big 3-for-5 night with a homer and three RBI.
Just as impressive as his work in batter's box has been the way Kratz has handled the pitching staff behind the plate. For the majority of the season, the highly touted Philadelphia rotation has underachieved with the exception of Cole Hamels. Lately, however, those high-profile starters have regained their form, largely with Kratz on the receiving end. Since the all-star break, the Phils have lowered their team ERA and are starting to resemble the staff that made them the favorites for the past few seasons.
Last night, he did yeoman's work yet again, even though Roy Halladay was roughed up a bit. Kratz kept working with Doc and helped him through 7 innings despite the five runs and 10 hits he surrendered. And in the process, he gunned down Jay Bruce and Xavier Paul on the base paths, including a rocket from his crouch without even standing up, a la Benito Santiago.
You can't help but feel good for a guy like Erik Kratz. Of course, we are all familiar with the career minor-league catcher makes good in the bigs story, seeing as we've seen this before with Chris Coste. But what makes it that much more magnetic is that Kratz is a local boy, a guy who truly grew up in the heart of Phillies country. Now, at 32, he's finally made it and giving the Phillies something to think about for 2013.
If he keeps it up, he very well may find himself as the official backup catcher to Ruiz as the Phillies look to rebound next season, with the chance to catch some of the game's best pitchers once or twice a week. Right now, he gets to do it even more, and he's not letting it intimidate or overwhelm him. He' relishing it, and he's doing as good a job as anyone can at temporarily filling the shoes of Carlos Ruiz.