Phillies' outfield rotation is somewhat Ruf

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryan Howard is hit by a pitch in the sixth inning against the Mets.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryan Howard is hit by a pitch in the sixth inning against the Mets.
Posted: August 13, 2014

ONE OF THE more murky aspects of the Phillies' strategy over the last 3 weeks has been their deployment of Darin Ruf.

After the club summoned him from the minors on July 22 to replace an injured John Mayberry Jr., the 27-year-old first baseman started three straight games, going 2-for-8 with a double, a walk and three strikeouts. But in the 16 games since, Ruf has started just four times, including yesterday's 5-3 loss Mets, when his two-run homer to straightaway centerfield gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning.

Manager Ryne Sandberg has described his outfield as a "rotation" on multiple occasions. When Ruf was first recalled from the minors, Sandberg said he could see some time at first base against lefties. So far, though, Ruf has mostly filled the role Mayberry vacated, a righthanded bench bat who gets an occasional spot start in the outfield.

Yesterday, Sandberg pinch-hit for Ruf in the ninth inning, opting for the lefthanded-hitting Grady Sizemore against righthander Jeurys Familia (Sizemore struck out).

"He's getting used in different situations - he's had a chance to pinch-hit, some spot starts," Sandberg said.

Ruf spent the second half of last season playing regularly at first base and in the outfield. While he struck out 91 times in 251 at-bats, he also hit 14 home runs and posted a solid .247/.348/.458 batting line. To put that in perspective, Chase Utley is the only Phillies hitter to equal the .806 OPS that Ruf has posted over the last three seasons (minimum 350 plate appearances). Granted, Ruf only has 369 plate appearances during that timespan, a small sample size, and he is not a natural leftfielder, but for an organization that has settled for less offensive production and equally marginal defense out of Michael Young, Kevin Frandsen and Ty Wigginton over the last few years, their current predicament would seem to offer a low-pressure, low-risk environment in which to give him regular at-bats.

Instead, Ruf and 26-year-old lefty Domonic Brown have been relegated to rotational roles behind veterans Marlon Byrd and Sizemore. Yesterday was Ruf's first start since last Tuesday.

The Phillies have given Brown, who hit 27 home runs with an .818 OPS and made the NL All-Star team last season, much more of an opportunity than Ruf. Brown has more plate appearances this season than Ruf has in his career, and he has hit just .227/.279/.334 while experiencing plenty of hiccups in the field.

Brown has played a bit better over the last couple of months. In 32 starts since June 13, he is hitting .264/.318/.405 with three home runs, though he would need to be producing at a much higher level to warrant a spot in a contending lineup given his defensive lapses. Of course, the Phillies are not a contending lineup.

Ruf entered yesterday 4-for-21 with four walks, eight strikeouts, a double and a home run in eight starts, compared with 0-for-10, two strikeouts and no walks as a sub. Adjusting to the pinch-hitting role is one that many hitters have struggled with.

"It's taken a little while but talking to some of the guys that have done it over the years it's really important to keep the same routine," Ruf said. "It's really easy to try to experiment and tinker with things, and you can't, because the second you do that things are off and in the game you have to be really consistent, really in tune to what you're doing."

Trade talk

The Tigers placed recently acquired closer Joakim Soriah on the disabled list with an oblique strain, but there are no indications that Jonathan Papelbon is any more of a possible replacement than he was before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Detroit entered yesterday with a half-game lead over the Royals in the AL Central, the loser of which would have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Mariners and Blue Jays for the second AL wild-card spot. The Orioles held a five-game lead over the Blue Jays in the AL East. Both Baltimore and Detroit could use bullpen help, and the Phillies are free to trade Papelbon to any team in the majors (assuming he does not invoke his no-trade protection, which he has suggested will not be an issue). Yet the Phillies were unable to work out a deal for Papelbon before the trade deadline, and it isn't clear that anything will happen on that front before Aug. 31, the last day players can be added to a team's roster and still be eligible for the postseason.

Bean ball

Ryan Howard had a scary moment with one out in the sixth inning when an 86-mph cutter from Jon Niese screamed in at his head. The ball ended up hitting him on the top of the front shoulder before deflecting up and knocking his helmet off, a sequence he pantomimed to head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan as he waved off medical attention.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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