As the Phillies inch closer and closer to Opening Day, pieces of the roster begin to fall into place. One guy who hasn't necessarily solidified a specific role year after year on the team is Darin Ruf. There's no doubting Ruf's ability to hit the long ball, but with Ryan Howard remaining at first, his primary position, Ruf will likely start the season in some sort of platoon while filling in when needed at first. If Ryan Howard is dealt during any point of the season, Ruf could see increased playing time, but right now the 28-year-old's role is still undecided.
Though he's hit just .217 with 11 strikeouts this spring, Ruf seems to be heating up at just the right time for the Phillies. On Tuesday afternoon against the Braves, Ruf went 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs scored and an RBI. Ruf tells Scott Palmer of Phillies.com that he's made some adjustments at the plate over time and has gotten some help from Mike Schmidt, among others.
Early in spring training, I was trying to get comfortable, trying to feel comfortable in the box [...] Finally after, I think, one of the minor league games, I came back and started working on some things and took it into the game that first day and it felt natural, felt good and just kind of rolled with that the last couple games.
On working with Mike Schmidt and adjusting his hand positioning on the bat...
Yeah, him and Sal just wanted me to move my hands back a little bit. I think they felt like I wasn't getting loaded as much as possible and therefore trying to push the ball, doing some things I might have to compensate for, so I 've been doing that and yeah, it's been working so far. It felt a little bit uncomfortable at first, but stayed with it and it's been working out.
While first base is the position that really suits Ruf best, the outfield will probably be where he sees a lot of his playing time with plenty of moving pieces there. Ben Revere is a lock while Odubel Herrera will likely make the team as a utility outfielder. Domonic Brown's status is uncertain and Grady Sizemore has been unnoticeable this spring. With a few spots up in the air come Opening Day, Ruf could find himself in the starting outfield against Boston on April 6th. How long he would last in the starting lineup is a question to be answered at a later time, but either way Ruf is okay with any role he receives as long as it's on the Major League roster.
This is the third spring training now playing left field and I feel comfortable with routes, arm strength...knowing what I can do, what I can't do and not trying to do too much...staying within myself and making the plays I know I can and should be able to make.
On whether he'd be comfortable in a role position such as platooning...
Oh, absolutely, I mean it's your goal coming out of spring training to make the team and once the season starts, you go out there and try to win every game in whatever what you can help the team win. Throughout the course of 162 games, a lot of things can happen. Your role at the beginning of the year may not be your role at the end of the year...it might not be the same after one week. So, you're just trying to make the time and whatever happens during the season...it's a long year, it's a crazy year and a lot of things can happen.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg has said that this spring, the team will be focusing on a lot of small ball. For the Phillies, that could be a wise choice, given their transition stage and unknown future, but they do still hold the ability to hit the ball out of the yard and Ruf will be counted on to provide some pop when needed in 2015. In three seasons with the Phillies, Ruf has hit 20 home runs while hitting .251.
It's nice if you move runners, get bunts down and get big two-out hits, but if you can drive the ball out of the ballpark, and with one swing get one or more runs, it kind of energizes the dugout a little bit and takes some pressure of your pitching and your defense to know they have some room to work with.
Ruf has seen time with the Phillies in parts of three seasons now, breaking through in late 2012. He hit three home runs and 10 RBI's in 12 games that year. Barring any setbacks, this could be the first year Ruf finishes spring training healthy, which is very important with his power and even his age.
In six minor league seasons, Ruf has a .295 average and has hit 75 home runs, driving in 343 runs. In 2012, he was known as "Babe Ruf" in Reading, posting a .317 average to go along with 38 long balls and 104 RBI's.
Injuries limited Ruf to just 52 games last season. He hit .235 with three home runs and eight RBI's in a limited role as a pinch-hitter, first base fill-in and in the outfield. In July, Ruf will be 29 years old, so his time to show the Phillies that he can be a part of the organization moving forward is now. Unfortunately, unless Ryan Howard is dealt or he earns consistent time in the outfield, Ruf may go through another season unable to prove his worth as an every day player.
My thoughts on Ruf? If the Phillies continue to give Domonic Brown every chance to prove his worth, they should be doing the exact same thing for Darin Ruf, who has proven to take any role given to him over the past three seasons.
See Ruf's full interview with Scott Graham here: