Ryne Sandberg's big challenge: Juggling Phillies lineup

Manager Ryne Sandberg is waiting for the go-ahead to start looking at younger players. YONG KIM / Staff
Manager Ryne Sandberg is waiting for the go-ahead to start looking at younger players. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: August 17, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO - There will come a point, Ryne Sandberg said, when the Phillies manager can discuss a playing-time strategy with his boss, Ruben Amaro Jr. At least, that is what Sandberg expects. The Phillies entered Friday on pace for 71 wins; their odds at a postseason berth were calculated at 0.2 percent, according to FanGraphs.com, but not small enough to force Amaro into a conversation about the future.

"Not yet," Sandberg said. He laughed. "So the challenge continues."

The manager's position is not an enviable one. He must balance expensive contracts with sensitive personalities and executives' wishes. He found a spot in Friday's lineup against a Giants lefthander for Darin Ruf, but at the expense of Domonic Brown. The juggle will become harder in September, when the Phillies could add infielders Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez to the roster.

There are 40 games after Friday. When does the future trump the present chase for hollow victories?

"It seems to me, a lot of these guys are in play for [the future]," Sandberg said, referencing his veteran players. "So it's still a scenario of trying to see everybody play, whether it's for other teams to see them, whether it's for us to continue to look at them, whatever it might be. It's a challenge day to day."

Will it be uncomfortable if Sandberg must bench those veterans for an extended period?

"If it comes to that, if that becomes the plan, if that's what needs to happen . . ." He paused. "Yeah, that would become difficult."

So what, exactly, is the plan?

"As of right now, it's to give everybody looks and playing opportunity," Sandberg said. "Let everybody participate. Now, September could be a little tricky, too, with some added numbers. It'll be more challenging then."

Amaro, who accompanied the Phillies on this West Coast trip, has issued revisions to his public statements about the team's strategy. He talked on July 1 of potentially having to "go a step backward for a year or two to move forward." He promised changes on July 7, saying, "Some guys, once they are ready to play, may be factors for us." But Sandberg's lineups, on the whole, have remained similar.

"Right now, we're trying to win as many games as possible," Amaro told MLB.com on Thursday. "At the same time, at some point, we're going to have to start looking to the future. And once we're 'eliminated' . . . listen, is it a long shot to get back into this wild-card race? It is. Numerically, it's not impossible, but right now obviously I'd be foolish to say it's something that's probable."

The Phillies were 11 games back of the second wild-card spot Friday.

Sandberg admitted his continued curiosity about both Ruf and Brown earlier in the week. Brown, an all-star last season who deteriorated into one of the game's worst everyday players in 2014, has potential that can be difficult to ignore. Ruf has just 107 games (90 starts) in the majors.

Ruf's splits show better numbers vs. righties than lefties last season, which created a conundrum, Sandberg said. He thinks Ruf could project to be a weapon against lefties, and that is why he will look to deploy Ruf in those situations. But, for now, an everyday job is not feasible.

Sandberg does not know what Ruf's potential ceiling is.

"You know, that's all part of the question mark," Sandberg said. "It's really hard to tell. He hasn't had a chance to do it every day. He hasn't had a chance for 600 at-bats, to play a position."

Sandberg planned to play Ruf on a regular basis; he said July 23, "I think it's important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do also going forward." Ruf started three straight games, but then just six of the team's next 18.

"I think there will be a group discussion on that at some point," Sandberg said.

But not yet, not as the Phillies slogged toward another fruitless conclusion.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb www.inquirer.com/

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