Darin Ruf hopes to take advantage of full opportunity

Darin Ruf hopes to take advantage of full opportunity

February 16, 2013, 2:15 pm

CLEARWATER, Fla – Out on the Robin Roberts auxiliary field, in the shadow of Highway 19, Darin Ruf tracked down fly balls in left field. Earlier in the morning, he took ground balls at first base. That’s how it’s gone for him in spring training. One day he’ll start in the infield and then move to the outfield later on, the next day he reverses it.

“I’m just trying to get as much in as I can,” Ruf said. “But I’m keeping them separate. I might take ground balls early and then fly balls after. It might be switched the next day. I want to get as much work in at both as I can.”

A year ago, Ruf slugged his way to the Major Leagues. In 139 games at Double-A Reading, he hit .317/.408/.620 with 38 home runs and 104 RBIs. Those numbers helped Ruf skip Triple-A altogether and land with the Phillies as an end of the season call-up.

It took a while before Charlie Manuel finally put him into a game, but when Ruf finally got a look he surprised some people. Ruf had 37 plate appearances in 12 games and hit .333/.351/.727 with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and 10 RBIs.

It was an impressive (if small) sample of his potential, and it prompted the Phillies to consider Ruf a candidate for the open competition in left field this spring. But while Ruf’s bat is his biggest strength, his glove might determine whether he secures a significant role with the Phillies.

The 26-year-old has been a first baseman his entire career. The other day, Charlie Manuel said he expects to give Ruf an opportunity to play there once Grapefruit League games begin. But the Phillies also hope that Ruf can develop into a suitable outfielder, because first base will be occupied by Ryan Howard once the team travels north to start the season.

In 2012, Ruf made 29 starts in left field at Double-A, and six more in the majors in September. After that, the Phillies packed him on a plane and airmailed him to Venezuela, where he played the position all fall (and smacked 10 home runs in the process).

“It was big,” Ruf said about his time in South America. “Any time you can get game experience under your belt, it’s very beneficial.”

In one of his daily meetings with reporters this week, Manuel indicated that Ruf will “get work” during spring training -- maybe more than initially anticipated. In the offseason, the Phillies signed outfielder Delmon Young, who is expected to be the team’s rightfielder -- eventually. On Friday, a day before the team’s first full-squad workout, Manuel revealed that Young is “definitely going to miss some time” and might not be ready to start the season (see story). Young is recovering from ankle surgery.

That means the competition in left field -- and the potential platoon -- might not develop until later in the year. If Young is unavailable early on, it’s possible that Domonic Brown -- who is still trying to prove his value to the Phillies -- will move back to right field. That would ostensibly make left field Ruf’s job to lose.

Ruf, who called last season “a dream come true,” seems aware that he’s suddenly in an enviable position, and that the break he’s always wanted might finally be before him.

“It’s exciting,” Ruf said. “You want to take advantage of the opportunity because you don’t know if you’ll get another one.”

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