It’s been two days since Darin Ruf was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley and already there are plenty of questions about the Phillies’ future at first base.
For the second straight game, Ruf started at first as Ryan Howard was relegated to the bench. The 27-year-old went 1 for 4 with a single and a strikeout in a 2-1 Phillies win over the Giants (see game recap).
Have the past two games just been Ryne Sandberg’s attempt to help Howard clear his head? Or is the Phillies manager seriously considering moving on from the former All-Star?
Prior to the game, Sandberg used the word “platoon” in reference to Howard for the first time (see story). Afterwards, he said he met with Howard earlier in the day to clear the air about why he was sitting out for the second straight game.
“I just wanted to let him know about having a right-hander (Tim Hudson) out there that he’s had success against and I wanted to get Darin a number of at-bats before we go forward here,” Sandberg said. “[We’ll] go with the schedule and the matchups as we go.
“Ryan wants to be in there. I totally expect that and we’ll go forward and make a lineup.”
While seeing Howard sit out multiple games in a row shouldn’t be a surprise given his recent and much-documented struggles (he has hit just .154 in July), it was still curious due to his history of success against Hudson. Howard has hit .328 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 67 career at-bats against the four-time All-Star.
Asked about whether he thought the benching would be permanent as he left the clubhouse, Howard responded, “Talk to him … bye, talk to the manager.”
With another left-hander on deck in Arizona’s Wade Miley, whoever Sandberg starts Friday against the Diamondbacks could be very telling. Not surprisingly, he declined to say whether a decision had been made.
Still, Sandberg was clear that the past two games have been more about getting Ruf experience than removing Howard.
“A benching ... no, it’s more a case of Darin just getting here and I wanted to take a look at him for at least a couple of games,” Sandberg said. “I want to see where he’s at because I haven’t seen him in a while."
For his part, Ruf seemed too busy adjusting to being back with the Phillies after almost two months in Lehigh Valley to worry about where he and Howard stand on the depth chart.
Having started for just the third and fourth times this season the past two days, Ruf knows it is way too early for him to think of himself as the heir apparent to Howard.
“I don’t know if I’m able to [replace Howard] because I have to go out there and prove it,” Ruf said. “First of all, it has to happen, and then I have to earn that position as well. It’s not just going to be given to me.”
2014 has been a rollercoaster year for Ruf. After generating a solid amount of buzz last season by slugging 14 home runs and 30 RBIs in 253 at-bats, things went south for him right from the jump this year.
First, there was the strained oblique that forced him to start the season in Lehigh Valley. Then, after being called up on May 21, Ruf received just 10 at-bats in seven games before being sent down again on June 1. He capped off a first half to forget by crashing into a wall while fielding a foul ball and straining his left wrist two days later.
Now, finally healthy, Ruf just wants to prove that he is a viable option for the Phillies moving forward. His single off of Hudson in the fourth inning was just his second hit of the season, his first being a home run against the Rockies on May 27.
“I faced a little bit of adversity this year so far with the couple of injuries I’ve gone through,” Ruf said. “I’m just looking to be healthy for these last two months and get at-bats."