It may not have been the start he envisioned for his professional career, but one year later, Spokane Indians infielder Ryan Rua
wouldn't have done things much differently.
After just seven games with the Class A Short-Season Indians last season, Rua was sent to the Arizona League Rangers to help polish his approach at the plate. At the time, that left a sizable question mark looming overhead as the then-21-year-old wondered about his future in baseball.
He put his faith in the system and spent his time in the Arizona League as a dedicated student of the game. As it turned out, that was a wise investment.
"The drills you do in the cage help, and so do live game at-bats, live batting practice, studying the pitcher and scouting reports on what pitchers throw on what counts," Rua said. "It's about going up to the plate and having a good approach in your mind."
That approach has drastically improved his numbers this season. In 65 games with the Indians, Rua has hit .298 with six home runs and 37 RBIs. His average and RBI totals place him fifth and sixth in the Northwest League, respectively.
His return to the Indians at the start of this season set off some butterflies, but only because of how much he values playing in Spokane.
"I still felt like I had to prove myself," Rua said. "The environment in Spokane is the best in the league."
He's made a number of changes since his professional debut in 2011. For one, he's made himself more valuable defensively by learning every infield position. He played third base last season in Arizona and had previous experience at second base and shortstop while in high school and college.
He's primarily played first base for Spokane this season, but moved to second base when Rangers first-round pick Joey Gallo joined the club.
Rua hasn't faced too much individual adversity this year, though the Indians collectively hit a bit of a rough patch mid-season. Still, the team has maintained a strong camaraderie, and that has helped put things back on track.
"As a team we all kind of hit that slump together, and it was difficult," he said. "That was kind of the first little bit of adversity I felt. We talked about the game being up and down. When you get in those down times you just need to grind it out."
The strong team bond helps Rua persist through the challenges of a Minor League career, and the Amerherst, Ohio native often finds himself missing his friends and family back home. And while his girlfriend, grandparents and parents have all gotten to see him in action either in Spokane or Arizona, his teammates -- and the Indians' fans -- have clearly taken a role as extended family.
"The team is really close, we joke around with each other," Rua said. "We like to have a good time, and playing in front of the fans in Spokane is a blast."
Hat trick: Vancouver Canadians right-hander Javier Avendano was named Pitcher of the Week for Aug. 13-19, marking the third time this season he's earned that accolade. The only previous Canadian to accomplish the feat was righty Matt Thomson in 2009. In his last 10 innings, Avendano has 15 strikeouts without allowing an earned run.
Thank you, fans: The Everett AquaSox are hosting Fan Appreciation Night on Sunday, their final home game of the season. The festivities will also include an "Aquaflage" jersey auction, during which fans can bid on Everett's Navy-inspired camouflage uniforms.
Who's hot/Who's not: Boise shortstop Stephen Bruno has hit .417 with nine RBIs in his last nine games, including a .550 average over his last 20 at-bats. Yakima righty Enrique Burgos is 1-1 with one earned run allowed and eight strikeouts in his last 4 2/3 innings. Eugene outfielder Mallex Smith has hit just .095 in his last seven games. Tri-City lefty Roberto Padilla has allowed 11 runs in his last 10 2/3 innings of work.
He said it: "We're optimistic that he'll get over this in a reasonable amount of time for someone that gets hit in the head. He should be back to normal activities in about two to three weeks." -- Salem-Keizer manager Tom Trebelhorn to the Salem Statesman Journal regarding pitcher Chris Stratton, who will miss the remainder of the season after being struck in the head with a line drive during batting practice. Stratton was the San Francisco Giants' top pick in the 2012 Draft.