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.”

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick out of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions that still must be answered:

How many spots remain on the bench? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. Will the Phillies go with a five-man bench, meaning there are two openings? Or will they go with a four-man bench, which opens the possibility for carrying eight relievers instead of the customary seven?

If the Phils go with a five-man bench, they will pick two from a group of four players that includes Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. The hunch is Coghlan will make the club, leaving the final spot down to Nava or Stassi. All three of those players are non-roster so the team would have to open a spot on the 40-man roster to accommodate them. Valentin has impressed -- and is already on the 40 -- but he might benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised the work of Coghlan and Stassi.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coghlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

If the Phils go with a four-man bench, Coghlan might be the only one to make the club. He is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Wednesday. If he wasn't going to make the team, he might be gone by now.

Going with a four-man bench would minimize the subtractions that the team would have to make from the 40-man roster. In that case, only one spot would have to be cleared.

A four-man bench means the Phillies could choose three relievers from a group of candidates that includes Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers could be coming on Tuesday.

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

A week before the season opener, it appears Andrew Knapp has won the Phillies' backup catcher competition.

The Phils on Monday released Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, two veterans battling with Knapp for the backup spot to Cameron Rupp.

Knapp, 25, hasn't had an impressive spring, going 7 for 38 (.184) with 16 strikeouts, but the move makes sense because he's young and has at least a chance to contribute to the Phillies in the future, unlike Hanigan and Holaday. Plus, catcher Jorge Alfaro and first baseman Rhys Hoskins will likely open the season at Triple A, meaning Knapp would not have had an everyday spot with the IronPigs.

Knapp had his best game of the spring at the right time Sunday, hitting a two-run homer and throwing out two runners on the bases (see story).

"It's pretty obvious he seems to be the guy," manager Pete Mackanin said of Knapp. "Nothing's written in stone but if you read between the lines, it pretty much tells you something about it. No secret plans or anything like that. It is what it is right now."

At 25, Knapp isn't really a prospect anymore but rather a player the Phillies want to see sink or swim at the big-league level.

"He's not going to get 500 at-bats, but one of the things you can look at is any exposure to the big-league scene is valuable toward anyone's development," Mackanin said. "Let's say Knapp gets 200 at-bats, it's worth his while and our while to judge him, to give him a sense of confidence or knowing what he's up against.

"In that regard playing in the big leagues, even in a part-time role, is important."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2013 out of the University of California. He broke out in 2015 by hitting .360 with a 1.050 OPS and more than an RBI per game in 241 plate appearances with Double A Reading.

Last season, the switch-hitting Knapp was an International League All-Star with Triple A Lehigh Valley, though he didn't have as impressive an offensive season, batting .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

"He's got a chance to be a pretty good hitter," Mackanin said. "And he's come along quite a ways defensively behind the plate to where I'm comfortable with him catching.

"Little by little he's shown improvement in the spring, even though he hasn't had the greatest spring offensively. He's had a lot of good at-bats and he's caught well."

Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp look like locks for the Phillies' bench. The final two bench spots are open with Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin in the running (see story).

CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury contributed to this report.