After struggling much of the spring, Ruf is sent to the minors

Darin Ruf scores when Braves catcher Evan Gattis can't handle throw following Erik Kratz' double. MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Darin Ruf scores when Braves catcher Evan Gattis can't handle throw following Erik Kratz' double. MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: March 25, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - First, Darin Ruf hit a walkoff home run that gave the Phillies a victory over the Braves. Next, he spent 15 minutes signing autographs for fans along the third-base line. Then he answered reporters' questions for 10 minutes. And after all that, Ruf was summoned to Charlie Manuel's office, where the manager and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told him he was being sent down to minor league camp.

It was a fitting end to what had been a whirlwind spring training for the Phillies' improbable prospect. Ruf, who blasted himself onto the radar last season by hitting a minor league-best 38 home runs with a 1.028 OPS at Double A Reading, entered spring training hoping to prove he could play leftfield well enough to warrant a spot on the major league roster. He spent the first few weeks scuffling at the plate and in the field as he pressed to prove himself. Eventually, he found his swing, notching seven extra-base hits in 44 at-bats in March. But the Phillies think Ruf needs the regular repetitions in leftfield that he will get in the minors, where he started only 29 games last season for Reading after converting from first base.

"I was telling them in there that I thought I was further along than I was in the outfield," Ruf said. "Just thinking that I was further along than I actually am, it was a good eye-opening thing to know that I have to keep working and things like that."

Ruf has a big supporter in Manuel, who told reporters he would be "surprised" if Ruf doesn't end up playing in the major leagues and hitting well, "if given a chance." Right now, the quickest path to that appears to be in leftfield, but the Phillies also want Ruf to keep playing some first base in the minor leagues in case Ryan Howard suffers an injury. Amaro said he thinks Ruf already is capable of playing defense at the position at the major league level.

"His bat is definitely going to carry him," Manuel said. "He has a chance to be a big-time hitter. I like him. I like his swing. I think that he has a bright career."

Amaro and Manuel both expressed confidence that Ruf will develop into an "adequate" major league leftfielder.

"I think he is going to be able to be adequate at some point in leftfield," Amaro said. "We've only given him, what, 2 months of professional time. That is why experience means something, to be out there and playing, particularly at a very high level where the ball comes off the bat a lot differently in the major leagues than it does in any other place . . . In our situation, where defense is very important to us, it's tough to put him in a situation to let him struggle through that. He needs reps. He's got to play."

In the meantime, the Phillies will experiment with a variety of options in the corners, although 25-year-old Domonic Brown figures to play nearly every day in left or right. At the moment, the likely combination at the other corner outfield spot would be John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix. Free-agent signee Delmon Young had four at-bats in a minor league game Friday, homering off R.A. Dickey, but did not run the bases or play defense and is not expected to return until at least mid-to-late April. The Phillies also are monitoring the trade market for potential upgrades on the bench, where Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte and utility men Pete Orr and Yuniesky Betancourt are the only obvious options to fill the final spot, assuming that second-year utility man Freddy Galvis has a spot, along with infielder Kevin Frandsen.

"We'll see," Amaro said. "If there are ways to improve the team, we will try to do it."

Besides Inciarte, who is 22 and has never played above Class A, the Phillies' only centerfield depth is Mayberry, who struggled at the plate last season and again this spring. In addition to optioning Ruf and releasing righthander Rodrigo Lopez, the Phillies reassigned nonroster centerfielder Jermaine Mitchell to minor league camp.

None of the Phillies' options has a higher ceiling than Ruf, who could easily hit and field his way into consideration for a midseason call-up.

"I think there's a good chance we'll see him here," Manuel said. "It depends on how our offense goes. He's capable of being a really good hitter. What he did last year was show that when he finds his swing, he can keep it the whole year. That's why he hits .300. His strong point is his strength, but he doesn't mind taking a ball the other way. That's what makes him so good."


Email: dmurphy@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @HighCheese

Blog: philly.com/HighCheese

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