Ruf making his case to stay with Phillies

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies (from left) Kevin Munson, Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis before yesterday's game against Braves.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies (from left) Kevin Munson, Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis before yesterday's game against Braves.
Posted: March 13, 2014

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - There was no place for Darin Ruf in the Phillies' starting lineup yesterday afternoon at Disney World. Domonic Brown started in left and Ryan Howard at first base, just as they'll be on Opening Day in less than 3 weeks.

Ruf didn't start on Monday, either. He was on the bus for the 2-hour trip to Champion Stadium at ESPN's Wide World of Sports yesterday, though, and sat on the bench ready for his turn at the plate.

He's hoping he'll be available for similar duty on Opening Day. Manager Ryne Sandberg might have other plans.

After watching his team nearly get no-hit - Kevin Frandsen and Reid Brignac had the only two hits in a 9-1 loss to the Braves - Sandberg wasn't against moving roster-hopeful Ruf into a more attractive position.

"He's trying to get in the lineup on Opening Day," Sandberg said of Ruf, one of the few bright spots offensively this spring. "Looking at the at-bats and swings for the last 10 days of spring training, he's one of the hot bats. He would be a guy I want in there."

Ruf is hitting .280 (7-for-25) with two home runs, four walks and six strikeouts in 12 games. Ruf may have a supporter in Sandberg, but the reality is the righthanded-hitting slugger isn't guaranteed a major league job with a little more than 2 weeks remaining in camp.

"[His spring numbers] are good, that'll help him," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday morning. "But he's not a lock. Nobody is a lock."

Freddy Galvis is assumed to be as close as there is to a lock for his defensive prowess, and veteran catcher Wil Nieves, a free agent signed for $1.13 million in December, is also a near-guarantee. After that, it's a collection of players including Ruf, Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr., Cesar Hernandez, Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Brignac.

Last year, Ruf was coming off a 38-home run season at Double A Reading when he entered major league camp for the first time. But he hit .143 (3-for-21) in the first eight games last spring while also trying to become acclimated as an everyday outfielder for the first time in his career.

Ruf was sent to minor league camp last spring on the same day he hit a walkoff home run. He stayed in the minor leagues until Howard was placed on the disabled list in July.

"It's baseball, and anything can happen," Ruf said of his chances this spring. "Hopefully, what I've done early in camp so far [helps]. I know I struggled early in camp last year, and that was one of the main reasons I got sent down. Hopefully, this year I've shown enough early, and getting off to a good start sends a positive message that I want to help in any way possible."

Ruf entered as a defensive replacement for Howard in the seventh inning of yesterday's game. He never got a chance to hit.

Ruf has hit safely in six of his seven starts this spring.

"He's taking advantage of his opportunities," Sandberg said. "Everyone has had a chance to play. No one can say they haven't had a chance to play. When he's been asked to play, whether it be leftfield or first base, he has taken advantage of that. He's put together quality at-bats and has done a good job in the field."

Ruf's transition from first base to the outfield was clearly a work in progress last spring. Although first base remains his primary position - he could potentially platoon with Howard at some point this year - Ruf has worked his way into becoming an adequate leftfielder.

"He's improved a lot, definitely," said first-base coach and outfield instructor Juan Samuel.

Samuel can relate with Ruf a bit. After five big-league seasons at second base, Samuel volunteered to move to centerfield in order to stay with the Phillies in 1989.

Although he eventually was traded to the New York Mets in the deal that netted the Phillies Lenny Dykstra, Samuel started 133 games in the outfield in 1989.

"It takes some time," Samuel said. "Once you spend your whole career in the infield and go out there, it's not going to be easy. I think he's starting to feel comfortable."

Ruf put in the work this winter, incorporating a variety of what he called "quick, short, explosive movements" during his workout program at home in Nebraska. He arrived in Clearwater almost 2 months ago (Jan. 15), more than a month before position players were required to report.

"I'm a lot more comfortable, and not just in leftfield, but just in general," Ruf said. "Getting a lot of playing time last year was a big confidence booster. So it's a little easier coming into camp."

Ruf wanted to build off the momentum from last summer, when he hit .247 with 14 home runs, a .806 OPS and .348 OBP in 73 games with the Phillies. In August, Ruf hit nine home runs; only two major leaguers (Miguel Cabrera and Alfonso Soriano, each with 11) hit more.

Sandberg has seen improvements since then, too.

"I see real nice adjustments," Sandberg said. "He did some good thinking over the offseason, as far as getting a little bit closer to the plate, utilizing right-centerfield and plate coverage. He came in and applied it immediately.

"For a guy who is looking to be on the team and win a job, he's gone about it the right way, starting in the offseason and coming in with a nice approach. He's in shape, game-ready. He's looked good."

If Sandberg were putting together an Opening Day roster, there appears to be very little doubt he would include Ruf's name on it.

But Sandberg is not creating that roster, although he will have a say. There are other factors at play, including the fact that Ruf still has minor league options remaining and fellow righthanded reserves Frandsen and Mayberry are owed a combined $2.49 million in major league salaries.

The Phillies are likely to have an expanded bench in the season's first 2 weeks, when they won't need a fifth starter. But they aren't likely to carry three righthanded-hitting reserves with Galvis and Nieves on their regular bench.

Amaro said Ruf's righthandedness will not work against him, however.

"We're going to take the best players," Amaro said. "Just like in the bullpen. It'd be great to have balance, but if he's the best player and will serve us the best, we may very well take him as a bench player. A lot of it depends on how much playing time we can give him. But we're going to try to take the best 25 guys, the guys that are the best fits for us."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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