Ruf still has work to do before return to Phillies

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Ruf still has work to do before return to Phillies

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.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Could be locked-in Hellickson's final start with Phils

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Could be locked-in Hellickson's final start with Phils

Phillies (45-55) at Marlins (53-45)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After three straight series losses to begin the second half, the Phillies head to Miami for three games with the Marlins. It's the second leg of a 10-game road trip that takes the Phils to Atlanta for four games later in the week.

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. Hellickson's sendoff?
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 21st and potentially final start for the Phillies tonight in South Florida. The Marlins are one of the teams after him, so it's possible he could just switch clubhouses later this week. 

Hellickson has boosted his trade value substantially over the last five weeks, posting a 2.54 ERA with five quality starts in six tries. He enters Monday's game 7-7 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Those are better and more consistent numbers than you'll find attached to many other pitchers on the trade market, rentals or otherwise. 

It was on this day last year that Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubs which turned out to be the tipping point for the Rangers, who several days later traded the Phillies six players, four of whom were intriguing prospects now thriving in this organization. Hellickson isn't going to no-hit the Fish tonight, but if he has a similarly well-timed good start, it could result in a better return for the Phils this time around, too.

Hellickson's last start was against the Marlins in the only game in last week's four-game series that the Phillies won. He allowed one run on five hits over eight innings with eight strikeouts.

Hellickson's control has been superb this season. He's walked just 27 batters in 119⅔ innings, or 2.0 per nine innings. That's nearly a full walk per nine less than his previous career rate of 2.9. It's a major reason that Hellickson has been able to maintain a sub-4.00 ERA despite allowing 19 home runs in 20 starts.

2. Scouting Cosart
The Phillies will face their former farmhand Jarred Cosart, who is 0-1 with a 7.98 ERA in three starts this season. It's been a troubling year for Cosart, who missed a month with an oblique injury and has spent most of the season struggling at Triple A. He had a 5.22 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 12 starts with Triple A New Orleans.

Way back in 2011, Cosart headlined the Astros' return in the Hunter Pence trade. Houston received Cosart, Jon Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana for the rightfielder. None panned out in the Astros' organization, with Cosart getting traded three years later, Singleton continuing to struggle in the minors and Santana ending up in Milwaukee.

Cosart has disappointed the most of the bunch. After going 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA in 2014, his career has taken a downward trend. He's never been a big strikeout guy despite throwing in the mid-90s, and his control has always been poor. Cosart has walked 15 batters in 14⅔ innings this season and 4.3 per nine innings in his major-league career. 

He did have success, though, in three starts against the Phillies last season, going 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA and 12 strikeouts to three walks in 15 innings. But this lineup is much different than that one. 

Cosart is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who uses a cutter, sinker and curveball. The cutter is his main pitch, averaging 93 mph. 

3. Injuries piling up
In the span of just a few days, Maikel Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist, Cameron Rupp was hit in the helmet and Andres Blanco fractured a finger. They've been three of the Phillies' five best offensive players this season.

Franco returned Sunday to replace Blanco, a good sign that he should be ready to go this week in Miami and Atlanta. But each Franco at-bat bears watching because wrist injuries can sap a player of his power. 

Rupp, too, could return to the starting lineup as soon as tonight after passing MLB's concussion protocol. He's hitting .276 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and an .810 OPS in his breakout 2016 season.

4. Bourjos back to Earth
After hitting .410 in June, Peter Bourjos has hit .227 in July with a meager .263 on-base percentage. He's 4 for 36 (.111) over his last nine games with one walk, one RBI and 10 strikeouts.

Bourjos is another player the Phillies could trade this week to clear up room on the roster for Aaron Altherr and/or Nick Williams. In Bourjos and Jimmy Paredes, the Phils have replaceable outfielders who don't figure to factor too much into their future. It wouldn't simply be wishful thinking to say that by next week, the Phils' starting outfield could be Williams in left field, Odubel Herrera in center and Altherr in right.

Altherr's rehab assignment ends Wednesday. At that point the Phillies must decide whether to call him up or option him to Triple A. 

5. Almost Thompson time?
It's no coincidence that IronPigs ace Jake Thompson pitches tonight, the same night as Hellickson. Thompson would be a ready-made replacement for Hellickson in the rotation if/when Hellickson is dealt. Thompson is on a ridiculous roll at Triple A, having allowed just four earned runs over his last 62⅓ innings spanning nine starts. He's lowered his ERA from 4.23 to 2.29 over that stretch thanks to a sky-high rate of weak groundballs.

Even if Thompson were to struggle tonight, the Phillies would still likely turn to him to replace Hellickson. There doesn't seem to be much left for him to prove at Triple A, where every International League starting pitcher with an ERA even close to his 2.29 has been called up to the majors.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday (see game notes).

Hellickson's value has rebounded significantly this season after he struggled in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks' trading him to the Phillies for limited value in the offseason. 

In 20 starts this season, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, posting a 3.84 ERA with just 2.0 walks per nine over 119⅔ innings. He also has a career-best strikeout rate of 8.0 per nine innings.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.