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.”

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Drew Anderson remembers his telephone ringing in November. He remembers hearing Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan congratulate him and tell him that he'd been placed on the team's 40-man roster.

Anderson was elated.

"It was awesome," the right-handed pitcher said the other day.

So awesome that Anderson celebrated in an unusual way.

"I busted out 50 pushups," he said. "I had so much adrenaline."

The internal discussions that teams have when considering which players to protect on the 40-man roster and which ones to risk losing in the Rule 5 draft are often long and detailed and decisions are not always reached easily.

But in Anderson's case ...

"It was not a long conversation," Jordan said. "The feeling was, 'Put him on the roster. Don't lose him. Let's talk about the next guy.'"

"Across the board," minor-league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves said. "And that's not common for a kid that pitched in A-ball."

Anderson, who turns 23 on March 22, will get his first taste of Double A ball in April.

Clearly, the Phillies are high on him.

But how high?

"We've got scouts who will tell you that he might be our best pitching prospect," Jordan said.

Given some of the power arms that the Phils have collected in the low minors, that's quite a statement.

If it seems as if Anderson has flown below the radar since being drafted by the Phillies in 2012 it's because, well, he's done just that.

For a while.

He received little interest from four-year colleges coming out of Galena High School in Reno, Nevada, and was headed to Mesa Community College in Arizona before the Phillies selected him in the 21st round that year.

"My name never really got out there," he said. "Really only the Phillies looked at me. (Area scout) Joey Davis saw me and he said he liked that I had a fluid arm and he liked the way the ball jumped out of my hand. He saw me as a sleeper pick. I just wanted to play ball so I said, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot.'"

Jordan recalled seeing Anderson pitch at Single A Lakewood early in the 2014 season. Anderson had added strength to his 6-foot-3 frame and his fastball velocity had jumped from 90-92 mph to 93-95 mph.

"It was just a matter of physical maturity, his body getting stronger, and we were really excited," Jordan said.

Anderson did not make it through that season, however. He came down with an elbow injury and the following spring became a statistic — a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery.

Anderson missed the 2015 season. He came back in May of last year and made 15 starts between Lakewood and Clearwater. At Clearwater, the Phillies' advanced Single A stop, Anderson posted a 1.93 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. He struck out 37 and walked 10.

The rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery focuses on more than just the elbow. Special attention is paid to the shoulder and the legs. Working under Joe Rauch, the Phillies' minor-league rehab specialist, Anderson gained much strength in those areas and it showed in his fastball velocity last summer.

He got it up to 97 mph.

He also has a good breaking ball and an improving changeup to go with a classic pitcher's body. He has long arms and weighs 205 pounds.

"We just felt some team out there would have taken him even if they had to stash him in the bullpen," said Jordan, expounding on the Phils' decision to add Anderson to the 40-man roster in November. "He's too big an asset."

Anderson is excited about making the jump to Reading this season. He's never pitched more than 76 innings as a pro and now that he's healthy needs to start racking up mound time and experience.

Anderson mentioned how hard he worked this offseason to get ready for his first trip to big-league camp and what lies beyond when he heads to Double A.

The hard work started with those 50 pushups that he busted out upon learning that he'd been placed on the 40-man roster.

"After hearing that, it was time to kick it in gear," he said. "I was like, 'Let's do this.'

"I've had some ups and downs, but I feel like I'm on track now."

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hector Neris racked up 102 strikeouts, the second-most ever by a Phillies reliever, during his breakout 2016 season.

The right-hander did it basically with a two-pitch mix — a power fastball and a darting splitter that manager Pete Mackanin likes to call “an invisible pitch.”

After last season, Neris reflected on his success, which included a 2.58 ERA over 80⅓ innings, the third-most among NL relievers.

Neris determined that he would need to diversify his pitch repertoire if he’s going to continue to have success.

So during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, he dusted off his seldom-used slider and threw it more. He’s polishing it up in this camp and plans to use it in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and during the regular season.

“I think it’s something that can make me better,” Neris said. “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

Neris threw a slider 2.9 percent of the time in 2016, according to MLB Statcast. He threw more than 49 percent splitters and 46 percent fastballs.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris said. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?’”

Neris’ splitter darts down and in to a right-hander hitter. The slider will break the other way.

Neris has talked about different grips on the pitch with guest spring-training instructor Larry Andersen, who threw a million sliders in his career.

“He threw some nasty ones today,” Andersen said after Tuesday’s workout. “The pitch will help him.”

McLaren to WBC
Bullpen coach John McLaren will leave camp on Wednesday and travel to Japan as Team China assembles for the World Baseball Classic. McLaren will manage that club. He also skippered the club in 2013.

Asked if he spoke more than seven words of Chinese, McLaren quipped, “That would be pushing it. I’m still trying to conquer English.”

Team China will provide a translator for McLaren, though there is a universal element to baseball communication.

“This is my third time going to the WBC,” McLaren said. “I love it.”

Almost game time
The Phillies will play their annual exhibition game against the University of Tampa on Thursday. The Phils are expected to play many of the young players that will make up their Triple A Lehigh Valley roster. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who pitched at Double A Reading last season, will come over from minor-league camp to make the start. Pitching coach Bob McClure said he expected to get several projected big-league relievers work in the game.

Alec Asher will start the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa and Adam Morgan will start Saturday’s games against the Yankees in Clearwater.