Ruf's slugging, fielding becoming potent mix

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Ruf's slugging, fielding becoming potent mix

August is Darin Ruf’s month.

The Phillies’ slugging outfielder has a major league-best eight home runs this month after belting one in the second inning of Friday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was Ruf’s second homer in as many days and his third blast of the week.

But home runs in the month of August are nothing new for Ruf. He hit two in his first 19 games of the season in July followed by the eight in 21 games this month. Last year, Ruf hit 20 of his record-breaking 38 homers for Double A Reading in August. That came after he hit two in the first 28 games of the season.

Indeed, the 27-year old Nebraskan is a late bloomer when it comes to his baseball career. He played four years in college at Creighton, was selected in the 20th round of the 2009 draft, and didn’t really find his power-hitting stroke until the age of 24 when he was playing at Single A Clearwater.

Two years later, he’s hitting homers in the majors.

Ruf might be a late bloomer, but he’s also a fast learner. After playing first base for his entire collegiate and minor league career, Ruf was moved to left field during his home run-hitting spree of 2012. With just one month of outfield experience in Double A, Ruf not only got a September call up but also found himself in spring training competing for a big-league job.

Ruf got in two more months of left field at Triple A through the early part of the season when he got the call to the big leagues. However, three weeks into it, Ruf switched to right field, a position he never had played before.

He actually had pitched more pro games than he had played right field.

So far, Ruf’s baptism by fire in right field has gone incredibly well. Not only has Ruf learned to play the position in a tricky little ballpark like Citizens Bank Park, but also he has shown a knack for tracking fly balls. Whether it’s hustling to make a sliding catch near the foul line or rushing back to the warning track to catch one before crashing into the wall, Ruf seems to have figured it out.

“Darin, for just being in right field since he’s been here," manager Ryne Sandberg said, "he’s been real impressive with that.

“He’s been very impressive to everybody. [Right field] was a position for him to get at-bats. I don't know how much experience he had. He's adapted very well. He gets to the ball and he catches. He's shown some range. He's sneaky with his speed. He gets good jumps. He's taken it upon himself to get work out there and he's adjusted very well. It's not an easy position, mainly here. He looks very comfortable to me.”

In 15 games in right field, Ruf has three outfield assists and has not committed an error. One of those assists came in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s win over the Rockies. With two outs, Ruf threw out Michael Cuddyer trying to go from first to third on a single to end a rally.

The Phillies came through with a walk-off win an inning later.

Is Ruf surprised at how quickly he’s adapted to right field?

“A little bit I guess,” Ruf said. “I’m just not trying to do too much, make the plays that I’m supposed to. As far as catching balls that I’m supposed to, working on proper footwork and throwing to the correct base. Just trying to be more accurate than anything.”

Ruf also has had to build up his arm strength to play right field. As a first baseman, Ruf’s throws had to be quick. He had to have a quick release, which didn’t leave for much time to think about accuracy or arm slot. As an outfielder, Ruf can air it out. Thanks to more long-toss sessions, Ruf could become one of those guys the opposition doesn’t run on.

“Hopefully this offseason I’ll be able to stretch it out and work on arm strength and things like that,” Ruf said.

It doesn’t hurt matters that Ruf is hitting well. He has reached base in 45 of his 49 big-league games and 23 of his 47 career hits have been for extra bases.

And now he has shown he can play three positions in the big leagues.

“He has a chance to be a really good player,” said veteran Michael Young, a player who has played a bunch of positions since becoming a big leaguer. “He’s working hard, working hard on his defense at a position that is kind of unfamiliar to him. We know he can play first and can play left, so if he can show he can play right field, that’s something that can give the manager options and he can be an extremely valuable player.”

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

ATLANTA – Two days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies have several pitchers who could be on the move.

The market for Jeremy Hellickson, Saturday night’s starter against the Braves, remains alive. The Phillies have received several offers, but nothing yet to their liking. A strong start against Atlanta on Saturday would certainly help the right-hander's value.

The Phillies had talks with Miami about Hellickson, but the Marlins filled their need for starting pitching by acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego earlier in the week.

Pittsburgh, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, the Dodgers and others remain in the market for starting pitching. The Detroit Tigers could be a team to watch on Hellickson. They had a scout come in to watch Hellickson pitch in Atlanta on Saturday night.

The headline-grabbing name on the Phillies’ trade front remains Vince Velasquez. Major league sources continue to tell CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies have had meaningful trade discussions with the Texas Rangers involving the power-armed right-hander.

Sources say a deal is unlikely at this time because the Phillies are seeking a high price and the Rangers could use their prospect resources in their quest to add a more established pitcher like Chris Sale or Chris Archer or a catcher like Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy. But it remains noteworthy that the Phillies have made Velasquez available for the right price.

What is that price?

Sources say the Phillies would like to get two hitters from Texas’ bounty. One of those hitters must be ready to play in the majors now and the other must be close. The Rangers have a number of hitters who fit this description. Outfielder Nomar Mazara is almost certainly untouchable. (He was last year in the Cole Hamels talks). Power-hitting outfielder Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Lewis Brinson would probably fit the Phils’ wish list.

A source described the Phillies as being “pretty deep” in talks with Texas. The Rangers even dispatched a top scout to watch Velasquez pitch in Atlanta on Friday night. The scout was not in attendance for Saturday night’s game.

Relievers David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez are also in play in the last couple of days before the deadline. The Giants, who need bullpen help, have had scouts tailing the Phillies for a couple of weeks.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

After scoring just once on Friday night, the Phillies are sticking with nearly the same lineup on Saturday (7:10/NBC10).

Ryan Howard moves into the cleanup spot, replacing Tommy Joseph at first base. Other than Howard, the lineup stays the same with Cesar Hernandez leading off.

Howard pinch hit in the ninth inning on Friday and hit a double, giving him a little momentum into Saturday. He last started on Tuesday vs. the Marlins. He's looked more like his normal self in July, batting .257 with a .543 slugging percentage in 35 at-bats for the month. The veteran has raised his average from a paltry .151 to start the month to a slightly less worse .167. 

He has three home runs in July and two career home runs off Julio Teheran, the Braves' starter steeped in trade rumors (see Game Notes)

Aaron Altherr makes his third start in as many days since coming off the disabled list. He went 0 for 4 on Friday after a three-hit season debut on Thursday. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco take their same spots in the lineup, batting second and third, respectively. 

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P