Phillies' bench moves continue

Posted: May 25, 2014

THE COMPOSITION of the Phillies bench took a wild turn in the last week of spring training, when Darin Ruf suffered a severe rib-cage injury, Freddy Galvis contracted a MRSA infection and Kevin Frandsen elected for free agency after being removed from the 40-man roster.

It's continued to be an ever-changing piece of the roster, from Jayson Nix coming and going, Reid Brignac arriving, Galvis being activated, sent down and then injured, Hernandez coming and going and Ruf entering the picture this week.

The near-extreme bench makeover from March to May will continue before today's game, as the Phillies need to create a roster spot for righthander David Buchanan, who is starting in place of the injured Cliff Lee.

Since the Phillies do not have another day off until June 9 - and are adding an unproven pitcher to the rotation - it's highly unlikely they subtract a pitcher from the 25-man roster. Two of the most likely players to punch a ticket for Allentown: Darin Ruf and Cesar Hernandez.

The irony, of course, is that they were also arguably the two most talented players on Ryne Sandberg's bench this week. Both were in the starting lineup against the Dodgers last night; it was Hernandez' first start since April 9 and Ruf's first start since 2013.

"Facing a tough lefty [Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw], getting righthanded bats in there to equalize that," Sandberg said of the lineup.

But both Ruf and Hernandez are candidates to start their next games at Triple A Lehigh Valley (or Double A Reading, in Hernandez' case because of Maikel Franco's place at third base for the IronPigs) because they don't have an obviously place to start every day with the Phillies.

Ruf, 27, who was called up Wednesday after Lee was placed on the DL with an elbow injury, is a candidate to play only first base and leftfield, according to Sandberg. When asked whether he could envision starting Ruf two or three times a week at those positions, Sandberg was noncommittal, despite first baseman Ryan Howard's well-documented struggles against lefthanders and leftfielder Domonic Brown's struggles overall.

Ruf also didn't swing a bat for 5 weeks while rehabbing from his injury, and could benefit from more regular at-bats at Triple A; he said this week he didn't feel great at the plate until just recently. If Brown is still struggling in 2 weeks, perhaps it's easier to pass the baton to a better-prepared Ruf.

Hernandez, who turned 24 yesterday, is still a developing player; he could also benefit from more regular at-bats, which he isn't likely to get in the big leagues with starters entrenched at every infield position. The Phillies also began to play Hernandez, a natural second baseman, on the left side of the infield midway through spring training in an effort to increase his versatility.

Unlike Brignac, Hernandez is not a candidate to be the Phillies' lone backup middle infielder. Sandberg has heard good reports on Hernandez' work at shortstop, but isn't ready to pencil him as his only shortstop to back up Jimmy Rollins.

"I'm a little unsure with that right now," Sandberg said.

So Brignac isn't going anywhere. John Mayberry Jr. is also an unlikely option, since he is without options (and has value if he is used strictly as a righthanded bat off the bench). General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ben Revere wasn't a candidate to go to Triple A, and fellow outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. is easily the team's best defensive centerfielder.

Ruf and Hernandez might be the team's top two reserves on the 25-man roster the Phillies took the field with yesterday. But for better or worse, they're also the most likely candidates to not be on the roster today.

Booking Buchanan

Even though he was one of the last to receive an invitation, David Buchanan was one of the more impressive players in camp this spring.

Buchanan, 25, had a 2.25 ERA in five Grapefruit League games (four starts). When Lee was placed on the DL, Buchanan, who was scheduled to start at Lehigh today, was the obvious choice to jump into the major league rotation in his place.

"He has four pitches that he throws for strikes, and in spring training, he mixed his pitches real well, and that was impressive," Sandberg said. "He also had the ability to stay down in the zone with all of his pitches. So it's been a couple months since we've seen him, I'm anxious to see where he's at, but also his demeanor was very good. I thought he was very mature, I think he handled everything for his first big-league camp. He opened up a lot of eyes."

Buchanan, who will become the first Georgia State product to make it to the big leagues, was 5-1 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts for the IronPigs. He was the Phillies' seventh-round pick in 2010.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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