Last year was a tough one for Rio Ruiz.
He struggled in his first season in the Braves organization, batting .233 with five homers and 46 RBIs in 127 games for Double-A Mississippi after coming over from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade.
"It was a struggle last year, but I think it's everybody else's job to remember [that season] and my job to forget," Ruiz said. "I came into this season with a clean slate -- and a goal to break with [Gwinnett]."
Ruiz reached that goal and has exceeded expectations, thanks to a fast start at the plate. In his first 29 games this season, he ranks seventh in the International League with a .311 batting average to go with two homers and 11 RBIs. He's also fourth in the league with 17 runs scored.
"If it's your first year in a new league, you want to have a fast start so you can build some confidence," Ruiz said. "I'm glad that I got off to a good start, but there's still four more months."
Still, Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker likes what he sees from the 6-foot-1, 180-pound third baseman, who turns 22 later this month.
"I think we pushed him a little bit to start him here, but he's played well," Snitker said. "He's done a good job defensively and he's swung the bat really well."
Ruiz, who entered the season ranked as the Braves' 16th-ranked prospect, said his goal is to maintain a consistent approach at the plate.
"I want to barrel up balls as much as I can," he said. "I want to be aggressive with runners in scoring position, but I think that's a key for a lot of hitters, not just me. When you get your pitch, you can't miss it. But I also want to work every day on every facet of my game."
Ruiz quickly showcased that consistency by collecting hits in 15 of 16 games in April. Through the first month of the season, the left-handed hitter has not gone more than nine at-bats without a hit.
Snitker said the Braves did not lose faith in Ruiz, despite his struggles in Mississippi a year ago.
"He's a guy at a corner position who has some power," Snitker said. "He has some work to do defensively, but you can see him getting better. He's working on his positioning and that first-step quickness. But so far, I've been really pleased with what I've seen."
Because of those struggles last season, Ruiz has been able to avoid becoming overconfident or overly excited by his fast start this year.
"I just go day to day," he said. "This game can be very humbling; you have to smile when things are going good and smile more when things are bad. If you can keep an even keel, things will be all right."
Strong-arming the IL: It's easy to see why Indianapolis leads the International League with a 2.59 ERA: the Indians rotation was impressive in the first month of the season. RHP Jameson Taillon ranks second in the IL with a 1.19 ERA, just ahead of teammate RHP Chad Kuhl (1.35). RHP Wilfredo Boscan is seventh with a 1.61 ERA, followed immediately by RHP Tyler Glasnow at 1.64 ERA. LHP Steven Brault rounds out the group with a 3.04 ERA.
What's the Motter?: Durham IF Taylor Motter has ridden a wild roller coaster to start the season. He collected two hits on Opening Day and was hitting .300 through seven games before a 1-for-35 funk produced a .161 April batting average. The ride has continued in May: Motter recorded three multi-hit efforts in his first six games but is batting .207 this month and .172 with four homers and 10 RBIs overall.
He said it: "I think it's just everything coming together at once, you're kind of seeing it here for a couple weeks. The objective is to play well, and as long as you can do that, I think it's awesome. I felt like every time I go out there, I've got something to prove. But I try not to let it pressure me or affect anything else. Anytime we're playing well and getting wins, it's great." --Syracuse OF Brian Goodwin to the The [Syracuse] Post-Standard. He ranks second in the IL with a .344 batting average to go with two homers and 15 RBIs. Goodwin also is third with a .411 on-base percentage.
He said it, part II: "[Junior Lake] has been swinging a little bit too big, and I'm not saying that didn't happen tonight a couple of times, but his swing has been a little bit too big, the head's been flying out there and he did a couple drills today where he's staying in the center of the field and trying to keep his head still, and it worked. We're going to need production from him>" --Bisons manager Gary Allenson to the Buffalo News on May 5 after Lake went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs in a game the Bisons lost to Syracuse, 14-6. Lake hit .163 in April but has done better in May, collecting at least one hit in four of his first six games.