Baseball: Replacement Watters impresses while injured Ruchim sits


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior outfielder Kyle Ruchim lines a base hit. Ruchim has recently missed time due to an oblique injury, but RJ Watters has filled in well for him off the bench.

Jesse Kramer, Reporter


Senior centerfielder Kyle Ruchim knows the powerless feeling of sitting on the bench with an injury while teammates compete on the field. Northwestern’s top hitter missed almost the entire 2014 season with an arm issue, and now has missed the last eight games with an oblique injury.

But the frustration is tampered when a replacement fills in as well as sophomore RJ Watters has. In six starts, Watters is batting .435 with four RBIs.

The only blemish preventing an impressive hitting streak is a pinch-hit fly out Sunday against Nebraska.

“What (Ruchim) means to this team is invaluable,” Watters said. “I don’t look at myself like I’m trying to fill his role by any means because I know I can’t do it. I just try to be my own player. When I try to not be myself, that usually leads to players struggling in general. So I just try to stick to myself.”

While Ruchim would prefer to be out there himself, he said he is not surprised Watters has stepped in so seamlessly.

Still, the extent to which his replacement has succeeded is nothing short of exceptional in the veteran’s eyes.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys, if not the hardest working guy, on the team,” Ruchim said. “So we knew if he got the opportunity to go in there and show what he can do, he’s going to take advantage of it. Now, doing what he’s doing is absurd. He’s doing unbelievable. You couldn’t have a normal, everyday starter do what he’s doing.”

Multiple teammates commented on Watters’ work ethic and desire to learn, and Watters said he’s always “picking their brains.”

Watters said he is always asking for hitting advice, and that has allowed Ruchim, though unable to participate on the field, to remain an essential presence on the bench.

“He’s always asking questions, trying to better his game,” Ruchim said. “If they’re bringing in a relief guy or if it’s somebody I’ve seen in past years, those are the things he’ll maybe ask me about. He’s always looking to improve.”

Every bit of knowledge gained has helped Watters’ confidence, which he said is a key to his success.

“I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic,” Watters said. “This is the sport of failure, anyway. If you’re not confident 100 percent to get the job done, then you’re usually not going to be successful.”

Ruchim said he is getting closer to returning to the field, but coach Paul Stevens said the former MLB draft pick is questionable for this weekend’s crucial series at Michigan.

The Wildcats sit at No. 11 in the Big Ten, three games out of the conference tournament’s final slot.

While Stevens said Watters’ production has thrilled him, don’t get the coach wrong — he’d rather see for his star senior manning the outfield and batting leadoff.

But, as with Ruchim, knowing he has a quality replacement in Watters lessens the coach’s frustration a bit.

“It’s just absolutely awesome to see somebody come in, and all the energy and effort he’s put into it is paying off,” Stevens said.

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Twitter: @Jesse_Kramer