Ruf Optioned to Work on Defense

Darin RufDarin Ruf smiled brightly as he touched home plate this afternoon at Bright House Field.

He had just smashed a baseball onto the thatched roof of the mini-tiki bar in left field for a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Phillies a 7-6 victory over the Braves. The ball bounced off the roof, out of the ballpark and onto the MLB Network satellite truck below. It was a nice moment for Ruf, who had struggled early this spring as he competed for a job in the Phillies outfield. But before Ruf had a chance to enjoy the moment, the Phillies called him into manager Charlie Manuel’s office and optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

“I’ll be pulling for him,” Manuel said. “I think there’s a good chance we’ll see him here (this season). It depends on how our offense goes. He’s capable of being a really good hitter.”

Ruf hit .246 (14-for-57) with six doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in 19 Grapefruit League games. But after hitting .143 (3-for-21) in his first eight games, he hit .306 (11-for-36) in his last 11. The Phillies believe Ruf will hit. That isn’t the issue. They made this move because he needs to improve defensively in left field.

Ruf struggled in left. There was no getting around that. In fact, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ruf would be in camp if he had looked better defensively.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “We think he’s a good hitter. He can hit. … I think he’s going to be able to be adequate at some point in left field. We’ve only given him, what? Two months of professional time? That is why experience means something. To be out there and playing, playing at a very high level where the ball comes off the bat differently in the major leagues, unlike any other place, and in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. He’s only played one month of professional baseball in left field. In our situation, where defense is very important to us, it’s tough to put him in a situation to let him struggle through that. He needs reps. He’s got to play.”

Said Ruf: “It’s a little disappointing. I was telling them in there that I thought I was further along than I was in the outfield, just based on the end of last year and making the plays I did. I mean, very routine plays, so those are the ones I’m expected to make. And in Winter Ball as well. Just thinking I was further along than I actually am. It was a good eye-opening thing to know I need to keep working and things like that.

“They’re not disappointed in anything I’ve done so far. It’s just that I need to get out there and play left field on a daily basis. One of the things they stressed was I can’t put away my first baseman’s glove, either. Going down there I’ll get the opportunity to play left field, stay close to first base, taking ground balls, things like that, where over the last month I don’t think I’ve taken a ground ball, solely being focused on improving in left field. Hopefully that will give me that opportunity as well.”

Ruf’s departure seems to put Rule 5 Draft pick Ender Inciarte in a strong position to make the team as a fifth outfielder, although Amaro stressed nothing has been finalized and they could make a trade or sign somebody before Opening Day. But the Phillies also reassigned Jermaine Mitchell to Minor League camp, leaving them with just five healthy outfielders in camp: Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Inciarte.

Infielder Pete Orr has been seeing some time in the outfield, so he remains an option. Amaro said it is unlikely the Phillies carry three utility infielders on the roster at the beginning of the season, which would include Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and Yuniesky Betancourt.

Amaro said Ruf will play a little first base in Triple-A as well. Ruf is a natural first baseman, and they would like to keep him sharp in the event something happens to Ryan Howard. Ruf could play five days a week in left field and one or two days at first base.

18 Comments

They need his bat in the line up. He starts to settle in and they send him down. Great opportunity to have him play with young out. This will hurt the Phil’s. Nice job Ruben.

No single bat can compensate for a poor left fielder, and if he started to struggle in the field it would undoubtedly kill his confidence at the plate because he’s so inexperienced. And 3 weeks in the majors before Young arrives wouldn’t help anybody. Other than that, Bill G, you make an excellent point, lol.

His bat will be back at some point this year, once he gets to play 2-3 months of game action in triple A. His defense needs it, that much is apparent. If he shows a marked improvement down there then they will find a way to get his bat in the lineup, trust me.

I remember when Pat Burrell was an outfielder….he could REALLY field ;-)

Burrell led the NL in OF assists in 2001 and 2008. He led LFs in putouts in 2002. His worst year was 2007, when he had 10 errors.
Otherwise, he wasn’t quick, but he was adequate. Left field isn’t the place where you put your best defensive outfielder.

with all the options they currently have for outfield, this is the way to go. The kid is only going to get better. He needs to play, not sit on the bench waiting for an open slot.

He isn’t going to sit on the bench – he’s going to AAA to play the outfield 5 days a week.

What is really sad is that the Phillies management did not anticipate this happening long before it actually did such that Ruf would have gained more experience by now. Phillies management – asleep as the switch once again.

Ruf played the OF in winter ball. Pay attention.

Yes, right muleman, a player can learn to play left field in one winter ball season. So either Ruf is stupid or it takes more than one winter ball season. I vote for the latter, how about you? Why didn’t the Phillies try to get ahead of the curve on this sooner?

Good point, Pherris. Why let him ride pine with five other outfielders ahead of him. Give him PT at Lehigh.

Why ride the pine? Take your chances his defense will be outweighed by his offense. Why do Ruin and Charlie want to fine tune the Phillies to mediocrity?

I wish they’d use Ruf as a way to give Ryan Howard some rest against LHP’s. Play Ruf at 1B for 1-2 days a week – it gives Howard a breather so he’ll stay fresh all season plus we all know how much Howard struggles against lefties.

Except for the fact that Ryan seems to be getting his old swing back. You know, the one that struckout almost 200 times a season, but also hit +40 HRs and got +140 RBIs. Heh has had way more rest than he needed over the past year and a half. To get back to NL MVP-mode again, he’ll have to play every day against and against lefties too.

Ruben and Charlie are clearly emphasizing defense in their selection process. Just when you think Mayberry can’t suck any worse with a bat, he goes out there and proves you wrong. Nix isn’t even a very good fielder, plus he isn’t hitting. He can thank his agent for the fact that he will be on the opening day roster.

I think the phans who are angry that Ruf got sent down to learn how to play left field have no idea how different it is to play outfield as opposed to infield. Domonic is NOW starting to see the ball better off the bat and he’s taking better paths toward the ball to catch it or cut it off before it goes to the wall. Honestly, I didn’t think he would ever be able to do it because playing outfield is about perception and reflex. You see the bat hit the ball. You hear the sound it makes and in a split second you have to go forward. Go backward. Go to your right. Go to your left. And if you go the wrong way, you’re screwed and so is your team. One winter of baseball in Venezuela isn’t nearly enough. Ruf will figure it out eventually and when he does, he’ll be back with the Phils. In the meantime, he is a defensive liability on a team that has good starting pitching and a good pen. Charlie and Ruben have decided to make defense their top priority. Ruf is not that much worse than Nix now. If Nix continues to suck it up, who knows? maybe Ruf will be back with the team by May anyway.

Why didn’t the Phillies just do something novel like just putting Ruf in left field for his offense and take their chances with his defense? How does this differ from keeping someone with good defense but suspect offense? Doesn’t Mayberry already fit the role of good defense – poor offense? Now they might keep Inciarte for the same role? Of course that would only be until Ruin’s major off season signing, Delmon Young, gets off the DL.

Maybe they’ll change their minds about having Ruf’s bat around if the “rotation” takes a hit. … As for his D, they no doubt evaluate him worse than Burrell and Ibanez.

I wish I would have seen this decision coming and I would not have renewed my MLB package. Now we suffer another season of watching Mayberry develop, an over-the-hill Howard flailing at curve balls, Lee and Halladay throwing live batting practice all under Charlie’s astute management.

Please bring back Ruf and put Sandberg in charge and let’s move on before that Nationals and the Braves are so far advanced that MLB will have to add two more play-off spots for the Phillies to play in the post-season.

Actually we will only have to endure Mayberry for one more shiddy month after which Delmon comes to the team and Junior spends his days on the bench or as a pinch hitter or late-inning defensive replacement…

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