With switch to right field, Ruf's bat stays hot

080613darinrufusa2.jpg

With switch to right field, Ruf's bat stays hot

Whether he's positioned at first base, in left field or across the way in right, Darin Ruf and his approach in the batter's box remain the same.

Consistency is something Ruf has focused on since joining the Phillies in early July, but in the field he's been jockeyed around quite a bit.

The 27-year-old call-up began his time in Philadelphia at first base, shifted to the left side of the outfield and, on Tuesday night, played in right for the first time in his MLB career after Domonic Brown was activated from the disabled list.

Ruf, who is on a torrid pace at the plate, said he doesn't let his offensive mindset cross paths with the defensive one, and that was certainly the case in the Phillies' series-opening win over the Cubs (see game recap).

The Phillies’ new rightfielder went 2 for 4 with a home run, a double and two RBIs, all while registering a couple of putouts.

"I think Ruf is going to have to hit, but I think he can," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It seems like he gets better the more he plays, so that's good."

Ruf stretched his on-base streak to 33 games, the longest for a Phillie since Chase Utley did so from September 2008 to April 2009. Ruf currently holds the longest active on-base streak in the bigs.

The Nebraska native said his pitch selection has been on-point and that he and the coaching staff formulate a plan of attack before each plate appearance.

"I'm seeing the ball well," Ruf said. "It's nice when you get a good pitch to hit, you're swinging at strikes and having a plan every at-bat. That's what we've kind of been talking about and it's nice to go up there and execute."

Outside of the streak, Ruf's statistical value has, accordingly, spiked dramatically.

His two-hit performance against Chicago pushed his batting average to .309 through 25 games in 2013. The right-handed hitter hasn't just steadily reached base safely, his slugging percentage has risen as well, making him a more complete hitter.

Ruf's OPS is at .960 on the season. He isn't qualified to be ranked in the category because of his short stint so far in the majors, but just for comparison's sake, Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez (.958) and Cincinnati's Joey Votto (.951) are fifth and sixth in the league, respectively, in OPS.

Ruf feels as though he's taking advantage of an opportunity presented to him by Manuel and the Phillies, but one month of stellar hitting isn't an end result.

"So far, yeah. But there's still 50 or so games left and it's important to stay consistent," Ruf said. "It's nice to have a month of success right now, but that's not the ultimate goal to have one month of success. It's to have a successful career. Multiple seasons of playing baseball well."

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.