Two weeks into Spring Training the panic had begun to set in. After two hits during the Phillies' intrasquad game to open live play, Phillies AA home run champ and newly designated left fielder Darin Ruf began slumping both at the Plate and in his new domain in left field. Almost immediately fans began questioning whether or not Ruf is ready for the major leagues. The answer? Too soon to tell.
When the Phillies signed obese slugger Delmon Young, an inferior defender, the pressure was on for Domonic Brown and Ruf to produce. Should Young occupy a spot on the roster and in the starting lineup, either Ruf or Brown could start. The situation alone is enough for someone to press; Brown's hot start only could make someone like Ruf press all the harder. Maybe it was too much pressure for Ruf to handle at first while trying to play left field regularly for the first time. But there's time.
The 2013 Spring Training schedule is an entire week longer this season due to the World Baseball Classic. Three whole weeks remain and Ruf could find his comfort zone on a hurry. Maybe it was yesterday.
In Thursday's game against the Minnesota Twins Phillies manager Charlie Manuel opted to start Ruf at designated hitter instead if playing the field. A position switch can weigh on the mind and Manuel seemed to push the right button: Ruf went 2 for 4 with a double, three RBI and a run scored.
Ruf's contract makes it easy to keep Ruf the duration of camp. A player gets three option years where they may send a player to the minor leagues. A demotion to minor league camp will be one of those. The Phillies need a fifth outfielder on the roster to take the spot of injured Delmon Young no matter what, so it makes sense to keep Ruf around. Either Ruf or Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte figure to be that fifth outfielder. John Mayberry was very useful to the Phillies in the three seasons they sent him back and forth to AAA. Ruf may fit that bill but there is no need to start that clock yet.
Finally, there is the endless debate as to whether Spring Training statistics matter. I would not hang my hat on them completely; a strong Spring 2010 for Ben Francisco turned into a starting job with mediocre results. I fail to see that say, two really strong weeks from Ruf to close camp cannot be considered a positive step heading into the season. That may be all it takes for Ruf to find his step and confidence in left field.
Panic if you must, but I do not think it is the time. The Phillies head North for a Citizens for two exhibition games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Only then do the Phillies need to make a decision. Let us see what happens until then.