As Delmon Young Experiment Begins, So Too Does Darin Ruf Watch

As Delmon Young Experiment Begins, So Too Does Darin Ruf Watch

Guest post by Matt Hammond

The Delmon Young experiment is off to a good enough start.

went yard in his first at-bat as a Phillie, a solo shot in the second
inning of his first start off the DL, the same day he’d been activated,
hours before his new club’s disastrous 14-2 loss to the Cleveland
Indians last night. Young went 2 for 3 with no walks or strikeouts, was
hit by a pitch and was the only one on the team to get multiple hits off
right-handed Indians starter Zach McAllister.

[mlbvideo id="26724051" width="640" height="330" /]

But now, the clock
is ticking on him. How long does GM Ruben Amaro give his prized $750,000
"low-risk, high-reward" flyer-type move? One month? Two? Six? A handful
of weeks?

Until Darin Ruf is ready?

The interconnectedness
between Young and Ruf now is fascinating. Amaro admitted when he
introduced Young that it was likely he'd start the year on the DL, and
whether it was by design or accident created an intriguing timeline for
his corner outfield hitting options to shake out.

Young debuting
yesterday gave that timeline life. Now, Young will be evaluated --
likely against scouting reports of Ruf's progress at the plate and in
left field at Triple-A.

Of course, if Young excels, the point's
moot. Even if he's only the 21 or 18 home run-a-year guy he was in two
of three seasons prior, Jimmy Rollins is the only other current Phillie
not named Ryan Howard to rake for 20 or more in a year since 2009.
That's Young’s stay-alive pace, for sure.

What becomes interesting
is the middle ground. What's Young's deal-breaking production level?
(He's hit no higher than .270/.305/.415 his last two years, though he
also said he was "playing on one leg” thanks to an issue microfracture
ankle surgery should have corrected – assuming it doesn’t knock him
three steps backward before he can even begin thinking about inching
forward.) And if he dips below it, what does Ruf have to do at Triple-A
to justify a switch?

Whatever it is, the .256/.311/.476 line Ruf’s currently working at Lehigh Valley probably isn’t it. (And that, by the way, is with a
.321 BABIP.) Through 22 games, Ruf's had the same power slump as
Howard, with only three HRs and 12 RBIs. Then again, he only had two in
23 games in April in Double-A last year, and did well for himself as the
weather warmed.

But the same goes for Ruf: what’s his
deal-breaking defensive ability? In spring training, Ruf booted two
balls on 22 chances, and that doesn’t begin to account for the balls he
misplayed or couldn’t get to. In Lehigh Valley, he’s erred only once in
32 chances, and has displayed decent range (2.07 RF).

It’s worth
knowing, the Phillies have deployed some atrocious left fielders in
recent years. Of 211 player seasons over the last three years, only
three LFs cost their NL teams more defensive runs than did Raul Ibanez
in 2011 (minus-23). Over the span, Ibanez’s minus-18.9 UZR ranked
second-last. And if you think that’s bad: Pat Burrell’s minus-20.9 URZ
in 2007 was the worst of any Phillies LF in the Charlie Manuel era. His
minus-17 DRS was second-worst. As for balls he actually got to, his .948
fielding percentage ranked the fourth-worst of any qualifying NL left
fielder since 1970.

The difference? Burrell made $13.25 million that year, Ibanez $12.7 million.

Ruf, if he gets another callup, will be slated to earn $480,000 – less than even Young.

chances of making the 25-man roster out of spring camp were probably
steep anyway. But it's hard to believe that he struggled so poorly as a
left fielder without warning. Maybe scouts in attendance at his
Venezuelan Winter League games were overly optimistic with their reports
back to the general manager. If not, it's hard to believe 30 or so
exhibition games in February/March could've ever impressed enough to
make him a regular option. Decision-makers had to know that in advance.

makes you wonder: if two home runs in 19 Grapefruit League games with
.246/.328/.456 line clearly wasn't enough for him to hit his way on the
roster, what was? What about if he could've projected landing spots
enough to turn and run or, you know, caught balls when he got there?

It’s an interesting mix, and with Young’s debut yesterday, that timeline begins to move.

The next blip, of course, being the trade deadline.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).