Transition to Cubs like night and day for Ruggiano
Outfielder typically hits much better during afternoon games
MESA, Ariz. -- There have been some free agents in the past who sign with the Cubs and relish the idea of playing at Wrigley Field, but have a tough time adjusting to day games. That won't be a problem for Justin Ruggiano.
"I was excited as soon as I found out [I was traded to the Cubs]," Ruggiano said. "One, I love the city, and two, I love day games. I've got kids. We can stay on the same schedule with day games.
"I'm just excited about the change and a new ballpark and to hit in a more hitter-friendly ballpark than Marlins Park," he said.
Just check his day-night splits and you can see why Ruggiano is thrilled at playing for the Cubs. Last season, he batted .303 in 40 day games, .181 at night. In his career, the right-handed hitter has a .291 average in the daylight, .231 under the lights.
He doesn't have as many at-bats at Wrigley Field. Ruggiano has only played five games there. He batted .262 at huge Marlins Park, which was his home field the last two seasons and features a large and brightly colored sculpture in center that lights up whenever a Marlins player hits a homer.
"The few times it went off, it was [entertaining]," Ruggiano said.
He's very happy to see bricks and ivy.
With the addition of Ruggiano, acquired in a trade for Brian Bogusevic, the Cubs have another right-handed bat along with Junior Lake to complement the left-handed hitters, Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney. Schierholtz platooned in right last season, and batted .262 against right-handed pitchers compared to .170 against lefties. In 2010, he reversed the trend, batting .294 in 51 at-bats against lefties and .227 in .176 at-bats against right-handers.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria hasn't said how he'll use his outfielders. Ruggiano is OK with whatever the skipper wants to do.
"Honestly, I'm not one to talk much about playing time," Ruggiano said. "I'm not one to talk about expectations or goals. I just really like to go out and play and enjoy the game like it's a child's game and not think about why am I not in the lineup today, or why am I playing every day. I just enjoy it every day. It's a kid's game, and I really try to keep it like that."
He developed that attitude after shuttling back and forth from the Minors to the big leagues for five seasons. Last year was the first in which he was in the Majors the whole year.
"There have been so many years that I've been in the Minors, grinding it out, waiting for that opportunity and when that opportunty came full force in 2012, I remember being grateful to be here," Ruggiano said. "I know that's kind of a complacent attitude, but at the same time, it's one where I can sit back and enjoy every day for what it is. I'm always going to give 110 percent, but I want to enjoy every day.'
He made the most of his chance in 2012, batting .313 in 91 games with the Marlins.
Ruggiano was not surprised to get the news that he'd been traded. He was arbitration-eligible, and had started hearing rumors he might be moved. The Cubs have been a great fit this spring. What's made him feel comfortable?
"Getting to know Rick a little more, the hitting coaches, everyone here," Ruggiano said. "I like the challenge that we have against us right now, and I think Rick has put expectations on us. I feel like I play better with that type of mentality with the expectation of winning.
"I like his message in Spring Training that he gave to us the first day," he said of Renteria. "I think that's admirable. Playing all these years, the guys who expect something out of you are the ones you seem to play the hardest for. He'll have our backs, and that goes a long way for me. You want to play hard for somebody who will always be in your corner."
Ruggiano got that optimistic, positive, "Why not us?" vibe from Rays manager Joe Maddon. The outfielder feels the same about the Cubs this season.
"You can't count anybody out in this game," Ruggiano said. "You have to have the belief, and Joe Maddon was really good at that as well. No matter where we were -- we were down 10 games on Sept. 1 and ended up coming back and winning and making the playoffs that last game. That was an incredible experience.
"That would never have happened if it didn't start with Joe and his belief in us," he said. "He went out there every day with the expectation to win, and knowing all his guys would be out there with the same mindset, giving 100 percent and mentally into the game. He could handle a physical mistake. He was always about being aggressive. You could make a physical mistake, but the mental part of the game was the biggest thing. He was a little harder on guys if they made consistent mental mistakes. He's a cool manager to play for."
Even though the Cubs are only a few games into the Cactus League season, Ruggiano senses that Renteria has the same attitude.
"You could never tell on a day-to-day basis if we had lost 10 games or won 10 games in a row [under Maddon], and that was the best thing, and I get that same impression from Rick already," Ruggiano said. "He's said it already -- 'This is me, this is who I'm going to be all the time.' That's important."
And that applies day or night.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.