MANCHESTER, N.H. — During his days wearing the Peabody High baseball uniform, Patrick Ruotolo emerged as one of the more feared pitchers in the Northeastern Conference. Now he’s following a similar path in the San Francisco Giants organization.
Ruotolo, a right-handed relief pitcher, is currently in Double-A with the Richmond (Va.) Flying Squirrels. He was promoted from Single-A San Jose (Calif.) earlier this season, where he went 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA and tallied 26 strikeouts in 14 appearances.
Ruotolo, 23, struggled in the early stages with making the adjustments in playing at a higher level. After shaking off the learning curve, Ruotolo found his comfort zone.
“When Patrick first got here I think he was trying to do a little too much,” said Richmond pitching coach Glenn Dishman. “The fastball was elevated a bit. The curveball, guys laid off it a little more than they did in Single-A. His change-up has really become his equalizer. He’s gotten better and better every day with every outing. He’s adjusting to the league and that’s good to see.”
Ruotolo has 35 strikeouts with a 1-1 record and a 2.13 ERA in 22 appearances with Richmond. Opposing hitters are batting just .180 against the Peabody native.
“I’m throwing more strikes, competing more in the zone,” said Ruotolo, who was drafted in the 27th Round of the 2016 MLB Draft. “Especially being down in the zone with my pitches. I went through a little struggle about a month ago. I let up a few home runs here and there. That was more about me keeping the ball up. They hit your mistakes a lot more here than they do in the lower levels.”
One of the keys to Ruotolo’s success in Double-A is the emergence of his change-up, a pitch he calls “the waterfall.”
“I don’t really know how the name started,” he said. “I was messing around with our pitching coordinator. He asked if I have a change-up and I said ‘yeah I have a pretty good waterfall.’ The name kind of stuck ever since. I’ve been throwing it a lot now. It’s been very effective for me this year.”
Ruotolo, who pitched at Division I University of Connecticut, also carries a fastball and curveball in his three-pitch arsenal.
“They all work with each other,” he said. “I still throw my fastball more. I probably throw my fastball two-thirds of the time. I throw the change-up mostly against lefties. It works a little more with them, doesn’t go into their barrel. I’ve been throwing it a little bit to righties lately.”
He started his minor league tenure in the Arizona League in 2016 and spent 2017 in Single-A with the Augusta GreenJackets. Through the past three years, Ruotolo has made it a priority to soak in as much information as possible from experienced teammates and coaches.
“I’m playing with guys who are 30, 31 years old. These are guys who’ve been to the big leagues,” Ruotolo said. “I talk to them, ask what they’re thinking. We’ll be in the bullpen and I’ll ask, ‘hey what do you think about this certain pitch?’ We’ll talk about that because I want to know what they’re thinking. Just pick their brains, learn from them.”
Richmond’s currently in the middle of a road trip that includes stops for back-to-back three-game series in Manchester and Portland. The commute from Peabody to Manchester is less than an hour away, so Ruotolo returned to his hometown earlier this week to reconnect with family members and former Tanners teammates.
“I went home the past two days because I’m only 45 minutes away,” Ruotolo said. “I got a nice home-cooked meal. It’s awesome having family and friends at these games, having them supporting me.”
Ruotolo carries a vivid recollection of his baseball career at Peabody High. He played under Tanners coach Mark Bettencourt, who also pitched at the Division I level for Boston College. Ruotolo credited Bettencourt for teaching him valuable lessons on and off the field.
“I learned a lot from my teammates and coaches,” Ruotolo said. “Especially Bettencourt, I think he was the biggest with mental toughness. You’re not going to beat everyone physically. You have to beat everyone up top, mentally. When I went to UConn, my college coach kind of taught me the same thing.
“(Bettencourt) taught me a lot. How to carry myself as a person, on and off the field. He taught me a lot about how to work hard. Not taking everything for granted. Everyone knew I had a live arm but he wanted me to be better.”
Ruotolo’s success in Double-A means he’s one step closer to reaching his dream of pitching in the major leagues. For now, however, he’s focused on improving his game while enjoying the ride.
“Things are going really well,” Ruotolo said. “I was drafted in 2016. There’s probably only a handful of guys from my draft class that are now in Double-A. Me being a late-rounder, it just shows that it doesn’t matter what round you are. What matters is how you perform.
“The Giants treat us so well. They make it the best they can. The Giants are great with us. My minor league experience has been awesome.”