The latest C’s Chat is with 2021 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Thomas Ruwe.
The 26 year-old from Fremont, Nebraska is proof positive that tough times don’t last, tough people do. In a feature story from DrivelineBaseball.com, Ruwe had to overcome a number of hurdles in his career.
- A chest condition that required surgery in which a metal bar was inserted into his chest to help him breathe.
- A fastball that clocked in at 75 miles per hour in his lone high school game on the mound for Fremont High School.
- A broken back that forced him to miss the entire 2016 season with Ellsworth Community College in Iowa.
- A transfer to the University of Missouri Western, a Division II program, in 2019 after the University of Nebraska-Kearney shut down its baseball program after the 2018 season.
- A partially-torn UCL ligament in his right elbow during his two-year stint at Missouri Western
Despite all of those setbacks, Ruwe carried on by joining the Driveline Baseball program in which his former Nebraska-Kearney teammate Chris Langin was a pitching trainer. When COVID closed the Driveline facility in Seattle in 2020, Ruwe headed back home to Nebraska to resume his training. He then headed to Arizona for a Driveline camp before traveling back to Seattle in July. His fastball climbed from the mid-to-high 80s in his college days up to 96-97 mph as he worked on his pitch delivery, pitch shape and mechanics. The hard work paid off as Ruwe signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays on November 5, 2020, not long after a scout from the Milwaukee Brewers showed interest.
Ruwe made his professional debut in 2021 with the Low-A Dunedin Blue Jays and his season got off to a rocky start when he gave up runs in four of his six appearances on the mound. He was assigned to Extended Spring Training for a month and when he returned to the D-Jays in late June, he found his stride as eight of his 12 outings were scoreless.
That earned Ruwe a promotion to High-A Vancouver on August 17. He did not give up a run in his first six outings with Monty’s Mounties, earning a save against the Everett AquaSox on the road September 3. He then struck out five AquaSox the next day over two shutout innings and finished up the year with four whiffs in two scoreless frames in the season finale against Hillsboro September 17. Ruwe put up a 2.53 earned run average over 10-2/3 innings with the C’s while striking out 17 batters and holding High-A West batters to a .147 average.
According to Driveline, Ruwe’s fastball did touch 99 on the radar gun with Vancouver and settled in the mid-90s range. The slider is his second pitch and he began throwing a cutter in the season finale against the Hops. That replaces a changeup he had scrapped earlier in the year.
It’s not known yet where Ruwe will begin the 2022 season but there is a chance he may get to climb the mound at Nat Bailey Stadium for the C’s.
You’re now invited to check out the video of the latest C’s Chat with Thomas Ruwe. A transcript of the interview can also be found below. It has been edited for clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – Thomas, congratulations on joining the Blue Jays organization (in 2020). Coming across your story from DrivelineBaseball.com, you certainly have had a lot of roadblocks thrown your way and I’m going to link this story definitely in the post coming up. But how did you manage to get through all that? I mean, you talk about back injuries, a lack of velocity, the opportunities weren’t there but what made you decide to keep going?
Thomas Ruwe – Man, that’s a good question. It’s hard for me to talk about honestly. It gets me really emotional because I just love the game of baseball and I’ve always just played baseball just purely because I loved it. When I was in high school, I was terrible. I had no business being on the team, like just flat up but I just loved it, you know? I just carried that love of the game, like through each level and you know, how I ended up with the Blue Jays was a long journey. I played college baseball for six years, redshirted twice and gained a lot of velocity along the way.
CPB – What kept you going through all the hard times? With all the roadblocks that were set your way, but you kept going, you obviously have this belief in yourself that you could reach professional baseball. How did you get through it?
TR – Honestly you got to look at where you are and you got to know where you want to go and you just got to be willing to do whatever it takes to get to that next level. For me…Driveline was a giant part of that. The summer I trained at Driveline I drove, I think, close to like 10,000 miles on the road, uh, because of COVID and I lived in Nebraska and I wanted to have my car so I could train in in Seattle and…you just can’t let any roadblocks like stop you, You just have to keep going, keep pushing through, find a way.
CPB – I understand it was a college roommate of yours who’s actually involved with Driveline and I guess he was really the big reason you got into that program.
TR – Yes, Chris Langin. He was my roommate in college. I love that guy. I had just come off an arm surgery from my senior year at Missouri Western. And he kind of reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, you know, you should look into Driveline. I’m going to be training people out there.’ He got a job as an intern there at the time in the fall and kind of talked to me about it and got me on the right path to getting my arm in shape and squeezing out all the miles per hour that I could.
CPB – And you’re certainly able to do that I know. I believe in that story from Driveline, your velocity was mid- to-low 70s (miles per hour) and then it eventually got higher and higher and higher up to the upper-90s. What were some of the exercises you did with Driveline? I know there was a lot of mound work, a lot of hopping off the mound, but talk about some of the workouts you did for Driveline Baseball.
TR – I did a lot of training in the weight room and I’d say that’s where I got a lot of my velocity gains because I was so weak. But I also did a lot of plyo throwing. a lot of the workouts I did was like pivot pickoffs and the drop step. I actually hold like three records there, I think, for the drop step and for the ply records now. But when I started there, I couldn’t do it very well. The drop step is just a throw where you face second base and you turn and plant your foot and throw it at the wall. It’s just to get your hips more separated from your upper body and that’s what I wasn’t very good at doing. And so we implemented the drop step up and I worked on that and I was part of my daily (routine) or I guess I did it three times a week on like higher intensity throwing days. I just worked on that and eventually, you know, it got to the point where I was doing that pretty well and my body was moving through it.
CPB – So I understand also your fastball that was revealed at Driveline Baseball, that the spin rate was really high, but I guess the one thing they wanted to work on was getting a bit more movement. Is that a fair way to summarize that?
TR – Yeah. So I was spinning the crap out of it but it just wasn’t very good, you know, it wasn’t very efficient. And so that was one of the big things that we worked on and I’m still currently working on is trying to maximize my efficiency. Basically I ran into a problem. I was spinning the ball really, really high, you know, like 2,700 (rpm – revolutions per minute) but I was cutting it and I was only like 75% efficient. So I wasn’t getting as much movement on the ball as I could if I was spinning it at a higher percent efficiency.
CPB – So, it’s taken a lot of work for you to develop your fast ball. What other pitches do you throw right now? I think I heard a slider. I don’t know if there’s a third pitch involved, but the slider is what might be your second pitch?
TR – The slider is definitely my second pitch. It’s a bigger, sweeping slider, it’s not a hard and tight slider, so to speak. It’s a bigger, little slower (pitch) but just a lot of movement on it.
CPB – Have you developed a third pitch at all or are you just basically focusing on the fastball and slider?
TR – I’m working on a third pitch right now. I hope to be able bring a cutter to the table (in 2022). I think that’ll help in a lot of ways but yeah, I’m ready to ready to start facing some hitters hopefully (early in the new year) and see how that plays. I brought it out a little bit in Vancouver. I threw it like two or three times and it looked pretty good so I just got to keep working on it.
CPB – You mention Vancouver. Is there like a game plan your use? I have to use so many fast balls, so many sliders, maybe working in the changeup, or do you just kind of go on feel that day of what’s working for you?
TR – For me out of the bullpen, I used to throw a change up and I actually got sent down at the start of the year to work on eliminating my changeup because what was actually going on was it just wasn’t consistent enough and it wasn’t the shape that I wanted it to be as often. And coming out of the bullpen, you’re only going to throw 15-20 pitches hopefully if you’re doing well in an inning…it felt like I was wasting the change up when I have such a good slider and fastball. I feel like when it’s on, the changeup was just like a coin flip. So I got sent down to work on just fastball,slider. I worked on that and was down there for about like three weeks, four weeks maybe. And I got called back up to Dunedin shortly after that.
CPB – You mention getting sent down to work on your stuff but how much did you need that kind of a nice refresher, (to) kind of take a break and kind of step back a bit? Obviously you came back a different pitcher and the results started to show up in Dunedin and that led to your promotion to Vancouver.
TR – in the moment it definitely was hard to swallow. As a competitor, you don’t want to leave the competitive situation but I definitely needed it. I think I would’ve been fine had I stayed but it was something where I really got to just focus on, ‘Okay, this is what I’m doing.’ I don’t have to worry about if the guys score, I can just throw the slider or throw the fastball, get comfortable throwing the slider in a full count, like just really work on some stuff. I think there was one AB (at-bat) where I think I threw the slider five times in a row. Just like working on stuff and that’s a little bit harder to do in a competitive situation in a game so that was one thing that really helped me.
CPB – Who was the one or who were the people that helped you out kind of get you back on the beam when you had your (struggles) between your first stint with Dunedin and then your second?
TR – Corey (Popham, Blue Jays pitching development coordinator)….I just needed just a little bit more time…Spring training was only three weeks (in 2021) and I missed a little bit of time because I had back spasms….It was just a combination of stress and physical stress on the body, you know, everything. So I missed a little bit of time in spring training. I think that was just a really big time for me to just like, kind of decompress and be like, ‘Alright, refocus.’ I need to focus on what made me good. And that’s spinning the fastball at 2,600 (rpm) with 90-plus (percent) efficiency and getting the sweeper to move how we want it.
Just getting more time, more reps on the mound and that was one thing that we were working hard on with Drew Hayes, the pitching coach in Dunedin was just even when I wasn’t pitching. I was only pitching once a week once I got back but I was on the mound as much as I could. Like I pitched on a Tuesday, all right. Thursday, I’m throwing 5-10 pitches on the mound so I think that was just a really big thing was just getting more comfortable because I think my last competitive outing, you know, was in D-2 (Division II) baseball two years ago before the season. So it had been a while. So I think that…the time was a really good thing for me.
CPB – COVID was a challenge for everybody, but how did you keep yourself going, kind of keep yourself motivated through that layoff and the uncertainty of it all?
TR – It was definitely tough. There was a lot of times where you didn’t want to do it. You’re like, ’Man, this is like hard to even see the light at the end of the tunnel’ because I was training and I had never even talked to a pro scout ever in my career at any capacity. So I was just training and I was older, just with this belief that it’s just like self-confidence almost, or like that I knew I was going to do it. I don’t know how. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I just know that I’m going to. It’s going to be hard just accepting that, just going pedal to the metal, just doing everything you can.
CPB – So it’s just about over a year ago at this time you signed with the Blue Jays. What was that like to sign on the dotted line?
TR – Signing on the dotted line was such an emotional day. I actually wanted to be with my family when I did it. And so I flew back home. I was in Seattle when I was offered (the contract) and I flew back home so I could be with my fiance at the time, who’s now my wife….I was tearing up the whole day basically….Just pure happiness and like for the first time, I was just like really, really happy and felt like my hard work had finally paid off. I know that I had been working hard for so long but it felt like finally, like,’ Alright, I finally got a little bit of taste of success.’ So like, let’s keep it going type of thing. It was…a lot of emotions.
CPB – You talk about your wife, I believe your mom, your friend Chris as you mentioned from Driveline. Who were the other people that helped you out along the way? I’m sure you had pitching coaches or maybe coaches that taught you some good lessons along the way. Who are some of those people that helped you out along the way?
TR – Steve Gossett actually is probably a big reason why I’m here where I’m at today. Obviously if you asked him, he would tell you that I put in the work and that’s what he would always tell me whenever I would thank him for helping me out, he’d say, ‘Oh, you’re doing the work’. But he definitely was in my corner from my freshman year of college. It’s a funny story…I was throwing during winter break, Christmas break, in the YMCA at the tennis courts. And he comes in and actually like kicked me off to tennis court because he was giving some lessons and he had booked the court or something. And so I’m walking off the court. I’m like, ‘Dang, this dude just like kicked me off the court.’
And he is like, ‘Wait! Are you a pitcher or whatever?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ ‘Well, why don’t you stick around? I’ll help you out.’ And he was a scout with the Mets and the Cardinals, and he had scouted a lot of good players and he gave me lessons and from there on (in), …every time I would come home (for) summer break, Christmas, break, Easter, whatever. he would help me out. I would go play catch with him. And he would just kind of give me a few pointers, a few things for me to work on and then I’d go experiment and come back and figure a new thing out. He helped a lot with my development. Just kind of keeping me motivated too….He’s like my second dad kind of in a way, you know, but yeah, he’s a real good guy so he helped me out a lot.
CPB – Now let’s focus on your first professional season. And of course, there were some rule changes that minor league baseball implemented. And I think the one that was certainly had an impact on the pitchers when you were at Dunedin was the automated ball strike zone. What was that like pitching with that? iYou did have a home plate umpire but he wasn’t making the decisions on the balls of strikes. What was that like?
TR – It was really interesting…it was just kind of weird how they did it. It wasn’t like it was scheduled. Your first four games of the series are automated. There was no schedule. It was kind of weird…you could play six games in a row that were all (with an) automated ump and then get two in a row that (is) the regular umpire. It just made for a lot of uncertainty about the game. It was like another level of just weirdness….I thought when it was working, when the technology was doing its job, it was fine. I’m not going to say it was great, you know, but it was fine. (Laughs) I’m a pitcher, but yeah it was okay.
CPB – It must have been…a nice adjustment…when you reported to Vancouver that, ‘Hey, now you can pitch with a real home plate umpire behind the plate.’
TR – It was nice just knowing like every game was going to be the same, that’s probably the biggest thing. You just felt like it was too inconsistent and just knowing that in Vancouver, every game there is an umpire. Yeah, there’s a different umpire but everyday there’s an umpire and that’s okay. It just felt like it was like going back to regular baseball almost.
CPB – Now how did you get the word about getting promoted to Vancouver? Who gave you the good word that you were moving up a level?
TR – The manager (Luis Hurtado) called me. We actually had an off day, I believe that day so he didn’t get to like call me in the office or anything. It was a phone call. And then I got a phone call from Drew and a couple of text messages from some of the other coaches. And it was a really special day. I mean, I’m an emotional guy and I was crying on the phone when he was telling me, ‘You know, you’re going to Vancouver’…It meant a lot and I kind of felt it coming because I just was like, ‘Man, it’s gotta be soon’. Everytime I was pitching, I just felt like I was getting a little bit better. It felt really good. but it was Hurt who told him he was getting called up).
CPB – So you go to Vancouver or really Hillsboro and didn’t get a chance to go north of the border. I don’t know if you’ve been to Canada yet, but what were your thoughts of getting to pitch in Hillsboro to round out the year?
TR – Hillsboro was interesting. It was definitely different than I expected. Hillsboro was a decent town. We just stayed in the hotel a lot. We didn’t really do much, or at least I didn’t. I really wish I could have been in Vancouver and I hope I start there and we go to Vancouver (in 2022) and I get to experience the crowd and stuff because there had been guys on the team that had played there years prior and they talked about, ‘Oh man, you’re missing out on Vancouver, dude.’ They’re talking about 2,000-3,000 fans almost every night…that would be amazing. It was a good experience. It was a lot drier than Florida. I will say that, which was a little nice. I wasn’t just dripping sweat every game so that was a good change.
CPB – Unfortunately in Dunedin, not a whole lot of fans go out to the games there and it’s always been like that, but for the Blue Jays, they own the team so it is what it is. But in Hillsboro, you pitch maybe in front of 50-100 fans. How do you try to keep yourself pumped up and when you take to the mound?
TR – It’s honestly just sticking to your routine. For me, I think I struggled a lot in the beginning because I let the situation get big, you know, whatever it was. I just wasn’t in the situation. For me it’s just really sticking to my routine. The eighth, ninth innings coming around. Okay, I know that’s my time, you know so In this inning or sixth inning, I’d start doing some my moving around, doing some plyos (plyometrics) and really just trusting your routine and trusting your preparation to get you ready for the game. And then that honestly prepares you for any situation, whether it’s 2,000-3,000 fans, because I pitched in front of that at the Cardinals (ballpark) in Florida on like the 4th of July, July 3rd night and I’ve also pitched in front of five fans before. You have to just really trust your routine and stick to that and just trust that you’re going to be able to put your best self out there every time.
CPB – Talk about your routine, if you can maybe summarize it, how do you get ready for a game? What’s it like from game day to when you hit the mound?
TR – Being in the bullpen, I personally like it because it’s like every day basically, except for the day right after you pitch, you know like ‘Alright, man. There’s a chance I’m in this game, you know?’ You’re constantly locked into the game. But from like a day-to-day standpoint, you get home on from the game, maybe you took a pre-workout in the seventh inning because you’re getting ready for the ninth or whatever and you’re all pumped full of caffeine. You got to find a way to get to bed before 1:00 (a.m.), one whatever, so you can get some sleep so you can be ready to pitch the next day, you know? So that’s kind of a challenge.
CPB – That’s interesting how you prepare for if you are pitching that day as compared to maybe when you’re not. I want to talk about one of your outings. It was against Everett. You enter the ninth inning with the bases loaded and the team was clinging to a lead and you managed to get the job done with…a flyball double play, but what was that like? Everett was battling for a playoff spot, so that was a huge game for them. But what was that like, getting your first save with the Vancouver Canadians?
TR – That play was so crazy because the ball was hit. Hhonestly, I thought I gave up a home run and you can ask my teammates. I thought I gave up a home run. I was looking down. I was like, ‘Oh no, you know, they just walked it off.’ And the right fielder, I think it was Eric Rivera maybe who caught the ball.
CPB – Yes.
TR – And I looked around and every single runner was like in a spot that I didn’t think they were going to be, you know, like nobody really tagged, they were all running. Everybody in the infield was yelling a different bag. I think I was yelling two, somebody was yelling one, you know, every bag literally and it was chaotic. But it was awesome. It was fun. It was really good memory.
CPB – Pitching in Everett. that’s an experience in itself. I’ve called it the Fenway Park of the High-A West League. What was it like having to pitch in really a bandbox, whereas in Hillsboro, it’s a little bit more forgiving?
TR – It’s definitely a unique park, that is for sure, I think right field is like 330 (feet) or something to right-center but the fence is like 40, 50 feet tall or something but still, it’s shorter than usual. But it’s kind of got like a fun field to the park. I honestly enjoyed playing there. But as far as like how differently you pitch it? I mean, you kind of pitch to the bigger part of the park if you can. I mean, it’s pro ball though. Guys can hit. I mean, sometimes you just make a pitch and you just watch the ball fly over the wall and there’s nothing you can do. It was really fun playing there though. I really enjoyed it.
CPB – You wound up pitching in three of the six games (in Everett), actually three of a four-game stretch. You had thrown, I believe it was two pitches when you got that save with that double play ball. How did you manage to get through that because it’s not every day you do see minor league relievers go back-to-back on back-to-back days if you know what I’m saying? I mean, how do you recover from that and be able to ready to pitch again, I believe you pitched two innings the very next day.
TR – Honestly, I didn’t really throw that many pitches before that second outing that week because it was kind of a ‘get hot quick’ situation. So it’s not like I was really taxed a lot in the bullpen during warmup and had a lot of pitches in the game. Everybody’s ready for that,I think, we just don’t want to do that a lot. That’s just kind of being on the cautious side I think. I mean, as far as like my mental side of it, the coach told me that I was not going in that game, (laughs) the third day , I think it was Saturday.
CPB – Yeah.
TR – He was like, ‘Ruwe, you’re down, you’re down, you know, and we’ll maybe use you tomorrow’. So in my head I’m like, ‘Oh. Okay, all right’ What happened, it’s a funny story now I can tell the story. You can look at the pictures from when I was in the game. I didn’t bring my cleats or my glove to the bullpen with me, right? Because coach, you know, told me I was down. And so we get in this emergency situation and the coach sends a player down to the bullpen and he’s like, ‘Hey, Ruwe. You’re emergency tonight.’ And I was like, ‘Hoo boy. All right. Who’s got size 14 (shoes)?’ And thankfully Roither (Hernandez) let me throw his cleats on. And then (Gabriel) Ponce ran and got my glove. So it worked out, it worked out but…I mean, my heart was pounding so fast that day because I thought (I had the night off), but that’s baseball and you know, I’ll never make that mistake again. I’m always going to bring my cleats and my glove to the bullpen even when you know you’re supposed to be down because anything can happen. That was a really fun experience though. That was, I think, my first time pitching in extra innings also in pro ball too and that was really fun, really fun.
CPB – I don’t know if (the coaches) wanted to use you for two innings, but they did. And I don’t know if maybe you had bugged them about maybe pitching a third (inning). As it turned out, Davis Schneider, usually a position player came in and pitched that game, but do they say, ‘Hey, thanks for the two innings, we’ll get you outta here’ or was there a talk of a third inning perhaps?’
TR – No. They were like, ‘Two innings is your limit. You’re pitching really well, but two innings is your limit because you did pitch yesterday.’ So they were just being careful and I think they would do that with anybody that was pitching if they had gone back-to-back days like that. I’ve never gone three innings before in pro ball so it just would’ve been too many firsts I think.
CPB – You certainly had your stuff working that day (with) five strikeouts in those two innings. What was working for you? I guess obviously the fastball and slider had been really electric for you?
TR – Yeah, the slider and the fastball were just playing really well. Honestly I was just attacking and I don’t know, I’ve like reached this different mentality, I guess where…it’s like pure competitiveness. I didn’t really have my best velo in the second inning and I didn’t really have my best quote-unquote slider but you just attack with what you have. I don’t know, it was just like that kind of flow state, I guess, is what some people will say you’ve heard maybe other people say.
CPB – You also had another really good two-inning outing to end your season, striking out four. That was a nice way for you to end your season and kind of leave 2021 with a good taste in your mouth considering how it started.
TR – Yeah, it definitely was a lot better than having given up six runs in two-thirds of an inning. It was definitely a lot better. It gave me hope though, because…in that last outing, I think I flashed the cutter and looking on the TrackMan stuff, I think the profile looked pretty good. So tying that back in, bringing the cutter in (2022) I think is going to be really good. Building blocks, you know? I was able to throw the cutter in the game and that’s what (C’s pitching coach) Phil (Cundari was talking about). I was kind of hesitant to throw the cutter because I’m just really trying to emphasize fastball-slider. He’s like, ‘Well, just throw the cutter. Throw it once or twice. It’s not going to matter.’ And I threw it and it looked pretty good on the numbers. So, I’ve been working on it for (2022). So yeah, that last game was a good building block for the off season.
CPB – And speaking of the off season, I take it, you probably got to go to instructs or (go) down to Duendin. What’s the offseason been like for you?
TR – I have not been down to Florida yet. I have just been training here in Missouri where I live. So I’ve just been grinding away, lifting and throwing. I took two weeks off from the season where I just didn’t do anything and I got back into training. So, it’s been a good off season. I’ve put on some weight. I’m pretty excited.
CPB – And for 2022, maybe you might be back here with Vancouver and actually to be in Vancouver this time around. Or maybe New Hampshire because, you know, being 26 years old, we don’t know. There’s a lot to be decided between now and then but what are your thoughts heading into 2022 and what you’re hoping to accomplish?
TR – I don’t want to limit myself in any way. I’m really excited to keep working, to have an opportunity to keep playing. I’m just so thankful honestly everyday that I get to play baseball still and everyday that I’m playing, even practicing shagging baseballs in the outfield, I just love it. I’m just looking forward to keep playing and keep having an opportunity to get better, keep working.
CPB – Final question. I just wanted to ask who did you cheer for growing up? Did you have a pitcher that you liked or someone maybe you tried to emulate on the mound?
TR – No specific pitchers really when I was growing up. I liked the Cubs growing up but I didn’t really like love (them). There’s a lot of good pitchers everywhere but I would say somebody that I did a lot of looking at videos of when I was in college. I really watched a lot of Max Scherzer videos and I just would just try to imagine how his body hits those positions that he hits. And I would just try to recreate that in my head and try to bring some of those things to my delivery. Obviously we throw differently but Max Scherzer was kind of one that I really just liked his delivery and watched a lot of him.
Special thanks to Christopher Oertell for providing the photos. You can check out his work on Twitter and Instagram @cjimagesnew.