Phillies start experimenting and beat Cubs

Jonathan Papelbon, wiping his brow when it was over, had to sweat out a three-run ninth inning by the Cubs that cut the Phillies' lead to one run.
Jonathan Papelbon, wiping his brow when it was over, had to sweat out a three-run ninth inning by the Cubs that cut the Phillies' lead to one run. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 08, 2013

The latest evolution of the Phillies outfield occurred in the Citizens Bank Park cafeteria Tuesday afternoon. First-base coach Juan Samuel found Darin Ruf there. He informed the 27-year-old Nebraskan he was playing right field against the Chicago Cubs.

"I thought he was joking," Ruf said.

"Why are you laughing?" Samuel told him. "Grab your glove."

Samuel estimated he hit Ruf about 40 balls a few hours before first pitch. That was Ruf's introduction to right field, a position he said he played once in winter ball. It was the latest indication the Phillies are committed to using these final 50 games as an experiment for 2014.

They activated Domonic Brown before Tuesday's 9-8 victory over Chicago, a day earlier than expected. They designated Laynce Nix for assignment, which rid themselves of one mistake. And they inserted Ruf in right, which bumped Delmon Young to the bench.

Manager Charlie Manuel said he intends to play Ruf, who extended his streak of reaching base to 33 games, every day. Ruf homered, doubled, and drove in two runs. Manuel does not want to move Brown from left, at least not immediately. Brown had two RBIs in his return.

The leftfielder created drama in the ninth when he dropped what would have been the game's final out. Jonathan Papelbon stranded the tying run at third to preserve the win, although he allowed three runs.

Nix was the first casualty of a lost season. He signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract before the 2012 season. The 32-year-old was used sparingly - he hit .211 with a .601 OPS in 151 games.

"There will probably be some more changes on our team as we go down through August and September," Manuel said, "because the teams that definitely are in contention and trying to win, they might come in and maybe take some of our players."

The Phillies could simply release Young, who is due a $150,000 bonus if he bats 14 more times. He can earn another $100,000 bonus Aug. 27 for his 120th day on the active roster.

The outfield is one spot in which the Phillies can seek an upgrade this winter. They have searched for an optimal alignment for more than a year, ever since they dealt Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Brown is guaranteed one of the corners. Ben Revere could occupy center, although his shaky defense does not preclude a move to one corner.

Ruf, a converted first baseman moonlighting in left field, said, "I guess I'll find out," when asked before the game about the differences in playing right. He did not bungle any routine chances Tuesday. His natural position is not available in 2014 unless the Phillies institute a platoon between Ryan Howard and Ruf.

"We're trying to find out a little more about his bat," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who added that he wanted to see the younger players. (Delmon Young is but 10 months older than Ruf.)

Brown, who was sidelined for two weeks with a concussion, remained in left despite extensive experience in right. (He has played 437 games there, counting minors and majors.) The decision, when explained by Manuel, sounded more for mental reasons.

"I'm not saying he won't play right, but I'm saying right now I like him in left because he has improved there and he made the all-star team in left field," Manuel said. "When he first came up, he had trouble in right and left, and he's come a long way in left."

For one night, in a meaningless game, the fresh alignment both prospered and infuriated.

Contact Matt Gelb at Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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