ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Just because Darin Ruf is finished with his rehab assignment and off the disabled list doesn’t mean he’s on the fast track to the Phillies’ lineup.
Actually, Ruf’s road back to the big leagues could end up being a little longer than some might think.
“Darin is an IronPig,” Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said Thursday night. “It’s our job to get him ready and to get him in shape and get the confidence for him to be the hitter that he is.”
Ruf isn’t quite ready to join the Phillies and give manager Ryne Sandberg the player he needs to revamp his outfield. With centerfielder Ben Revere struggling at the leadoff spot and Dom Brown fighting to regain his All-Star form from a year ago, Ruf’s emergence could be very beneficial.
Ruf could allow Marlon Byrd to play center field or give Brown days off against lefties. Moreover, Ruf could be a needed right-handed slugger off the bench; the Phillies are 6 for 46 (.130) with one homer in pinch-hitting situations this season.
Nevertheless, it’s going to take some time for him to get back to form.
“I have to keep in mind that I didn’t do stuff for a long time,” Ruf said.
When Ruf suffered a strained oblique muscle during spring training, he was forced to shut down not just his baseball workouts but also all of his workouts. That means Ruf didn’t swing a bat, throw a ball, wear a glove or jog around the infield.
He didn’t run at all. He didn’t do anything.
“I was pretty much shut down for four-and-a-half to five weeks,” Ruf said after going 1 for 5 for Lehigh Valley in a 7-1 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Thursday night at Coca-Cola Park.
“I didn’t start running until after the five-week mark. I was pretty much starting over from scratch. I don’t think I ever took off that long in the offseason.”
So don’t expect it to come back overnight for Ruf, who has played in four straight games for Lehigh Valley after playing three for Single A Clearwater last week. Ruf is ready to settle in and get to work because he’s essentially in just his second week of spring training.
No, Ruf isn’t approaching the games as if he’s playing in the Grapefruit League, but he certainly has perspective. In fact, Ruf uses teammate Freddy Galvis as a point of reference why it isn’t a good idea to hurry back. Galvis rushed back from MRSA, appeared in three games for Clearwater and was back in Philadelphia.
As a result, Galvis went 2 for 42 in 16 games for the Phillies before being demoted.
“I saw what happened to Freddy and he kind of struggled when he was rushed a little bit,” Ruf said. “I need to get some at-bats. I missed six to seven weeks and I probably missed about 80 at-bats that most of these guys have. I need to make the most out of every time I play.”
He’s going to get a chance to get in shape, too, Brundage said. In Thursday’s game, Ruf played nine innings at first base and didn’t come out of the game even when Lehigh Valley went on a big rally in the eighth inning to put the game out of reach. Batting third, Ruf got five plate appearances and saw 24 pitches. Though he struck out twice, Ruf hit a long, loud foul ball with the bases loaded in the eighth inning that curled just foul and disappeared over the back wall of the ballpark.
Yes, Ruf was slightly out in front of a fastball that time.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Brundage said. “I know he had some ABs [in Clearwater], but this is a good level for him to get better timing, and it’s realistic for what you’re facing to prepare to get back to the big leagues.”
In the meantime, the Phillies can impatiently wait for Ruf to rejoin the team.