Phillies send Darin Ruf to minor-league complex

Prospect Darin Ruf encountered difficulties transitioning from first base to left field this spring.
Prospect Darin Ruf encountered difficulties transitioning from first base to left field this spring. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 24, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Darin Ruf's road to the big leagues took a detour Friday, but only after he showed once again why he was here in the first place.

The 26-year-old slugger stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning and launched a long walk-off home run to left field, giving the Phillies a 7-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

As he crossed home plate, Ruf was swarmed by his teammates in what was unquestionably the best moment of his often difficult spring training.

Bad news awaited him back in the clubhouse at Bright House Field.

After meeting with reporters for 10 minutes at his locker, Ruf was called into manager Charlie Manuel's office, where he was told by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. he was being optioned to the minor-league complex.

"It kind of caught me off-guard a little bit," Ruf said during his second session with reporters. "But it's part of the game. They're not disappointed in anything I've done so far. It's just that I need to get out there and play left field on a daily basis."

A year ago at this time, Ruf was a first baseman and a fringe prospect who had never played above single-A Clearwater. He became a lot more than that last season by hitting a club-record 38 home runs at double-A Reading, three more with the Phillies, and 10 during a 32-game winter ball stint in Venezuela.

That power convinced the Phillies to move Ruf from first base to left field in an effort to get him to the big leagues sooner. First base, of course, is likely to be occupied by Ryan Howard for the next four years.

As much work as Ruf put in during winter ball and in this camp, left field is still an adventure for him. He made two errors in spring training, and perhaps his worst moment came Monday in a road game against the Braves when a Freddie Freeman fly ball bounced out of the heel of his glove and over the wall at Lake Buena Vista's Champion Stadium for a home run.

"Bringing him into this camp, I think he's improved and it's been good for him," Amaro said. "But he's got some work to do to be an everyday leftfielder in the big leagues. We think he's a good hitter."

In addition to struggling in the field early in Grapefruit League games, Ruf also had problems at the plate. He went 3 for 21 in his first eight games and admitted that wore him down some.

"I would take that as normal after not playing for a couple months," Ruf said earlier in the week. "I was getting my timing back . . . but I think people expected me to hit a home run every at-bat, get a hit every at-bat, and not make a mistake at a new position."

By the end of camp, Ruf's stroke was back in gear. He batted .306 (11 for 36) with five doubles and two home runs in his last 11 games.

"His bat is definitely going to carry him," Manuel said. "He has a chance to be a big-time hitter. I think he's going to have a bright career. I think there's a good chance we'll see him here. What he did last year was show that when he finds his swing, he can keep it through the whole year."

Manuel and Amaro told Ruf that they wanted him to continue working on his first-base skills at Lehigh Valley.

"One of the things they stressed is that I can't put away my first baseman's glove, either," Ruf said. "Going down there, I'll get the opportunity to play left field, stay close to first base and taking ground balls. Over the last month, I don't think I've taken a ground ball. I've solely worked on improving in left field."

There wasn't quite enough improvement in Ruf's first big-league camp, but before he departed Friday, he reminded everyone about the thunder in his bat.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow him on Twitter @brookob.

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