Inside the Phillies: Darin Ruf has to bide his time in the big leagues

Darin Ruf was called up by the Phillies after breaking Ryan Howard's single-season record at double-A Reading with 38 home runs. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Darin Ruf was called up by the Phillies after breaking Ryan Howard's single-season record at double-A Reading with 38 home runs. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 12, 2012

Actions always speak loudest, and Charlie Manuel made his view on the Phillies' standing in the National League wild-card race clear when he filled out his lineup card for Monday night's game against the Miami Marlins.

Everybody, and especially the Phillies' offensive-minded manager, is eager to see whether Darin Ruf can continue the 2012 mash-a-thon he produced on a nightly basis at double-A Reading now that the 26-year-old slugger has reached the big show.

But when it came time to write down the names he thought could most help the Phillies beat the Marlins, Manuel decided that Ty Wigginton was a better choice to play left field than the MVP of the Eastern League.

"I thought quite a while about it," Manuel said. "I came to the conclusion that I want to see [Ruf] take some fly balls. I want to see him work at first. I want to see him take BP. Also, I figured the last three or four times that Wigginton has played against lefthanded pitchers, he's done something in the game for us. I figured if we're winning some games, I'd leave him out there."

It's important to have a fact checker in this election season, and our examination of the facts found that the Phillies were 4-1 in their previous five games against lefthanded starters, with the only loss coming in the ninth-inning meltdown at Atlanta. Before that, the Phillies had been 16-23 against lefties this season.

Wigginton had started all five of the recent games against lefthanders and reached base in nine of his 18 plate appearances with two doubles, a home run, and three RBIs.

Manuel's facts hold up, and his decision paid off in the form of a 3-1 victory over the Marlins that extended the Phillies' winning streak to five games. Wigginton's contribution was a fifth-inning walk that was followed by a Domonic Brown home run, which was all the support Kyle Kendrick needed for his fifth win in his last six starts.

No matter what you think about the season Wigginton is having, he is part of the hot hand Manuel has been playing against lefties recently, and if you think the Phillies should be trying to win every game in an effort to reach the playoffs, you cannot argue with his logic in this case.

That said, Manuel is as excited as you are to see the kid who was playfully being called Babe Ruf by some of his teammates Monday afternoon after he entered a big-league clubhouse for the first time in his life.

Manuel "had a big smile on his face when I walked in," Ruf said. "I think mine was probably a little bit bigger than his. It was nice to finally get to sit down and talk to him."

The manager agreed.

"Yeah, he was excited," Manuel said. "I enjoyed talking to him and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Manuel watched Ruf from afar this summer, particularly last month when he hit an impressive 20 home runs. The manager acknowledged that his juices start flowing any time he sees a guy who can hit 39 home runs.

"You see this ballpark," Manuel said, gazing out at the second deck of the outfield. "If we were going to add on it tonight, why do you think we'd add on it? People want to come in and watch guys hit. Guys can throw a shutout, but after a while they'll get tired of seeing shutouts. They like somebody that can move the baseball."

Even though he was not in the starting lineup, Ruf handled his first mass interview inside the home clubhouse with remarkable aplomb.

Asked about breaking new teammate Ryan Howard's single-season home-run record at Reading, he seemed almost embarrassed by being mentioned in the same breath.

"I obviously don't think I deserve it because of all of the things he's accomplished," Ruf said. "I broke one double-A record that he held. I think he had 30 fewer games and had just as many as I did, then he went to triple A, then the World Series championships, and the things he's done at this level, so, it's just . . . It's nice. I was kind of hoping I would just tie it, but I hit one more."

Again, we find the facts to be true. Howard hit 37 home runs in 102 games and 433 plate appearances at Reading in 2004, then blasted nine more at triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and two with the big-league Phillies for a total of 48 that year. Ruf hit his record-setting 38 home runs in 139 regular-season games and 584 plate appearances. (He added another homer in the postseason.) Ruf is also two years older than Howard was in 2004.

None of that, however, diminishes Ruf's remarkable season. Time will tell whether his minor-league power can translate to the big-league level. He was not even on the radar as much of a minor-league prospect before this season, but that may just mean a lot of people were wrong about him.

Nothing he was doing at home plate could have discouraged anyone's opinion. He has a .305 career batting average, a .386 on-base percentage, and a .907 OPS in 458 minor-league games. That is not a small sample. Those numbers, combined with his attitude, have won Ruf a lot of admiration and respect during his four seasons of professional baseball.

That's why he received such an abusive welcome when he arrived Monday.

"[Steven] Lerud busted out his Babe Ruf T-shirt that the Reading Phillies had been selling," Ruf said. "He was waiting for that moment for a while. Kevin [Frandsen] was calling me Babe and all of those nicknames. It's just been a lot of fun."

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow @brookob on Twitter.


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