Darin Ruf: the Man Ruben Forgot

BY PAUL MANCANO – Darin Ruf. Remember that name? You know, the guy who hit 14 homers in less than half a season last year? The 27-year-old outfielder who could have – who should have – been the cornerstone of the Phillies outfield? I understand if you’ve forgotten about him. Clearly, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has too.

All the way back in August 2012, back when the Phillies were still a .500 team, we were hearing murmurings of his name. Then anchoring first base for the Reading Phillies, “Babe Ruf” jacked 20 homers in a single month – which, if they had come in the big leagues, would’ve tied a record owned by Sammy Sosa. He also broke Ryan Howard’s single-season home run record with 38 for the year.

Ruf’s breakout performance was enough to earn a late-season call up to the major league club. The big boys over in Philly were putting the finishing touches on their first mediocre season in five years. Charlie stuck him out in right field, a position of weakness since Ruben basically gave away traded Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. Ruf didn’t exactly look like a Gold Glover in the field, but he certainly didn’t look hopeless. In his 12 games, Ruf hit .333 with 11 hits, 10 RBI, and three home runs. Not bad for a first crack at major league baseball.

But Ruf’s bite-sized sample of action wasn’t enough to earn him a roster spot at the start of the 2013 embarrassment campaign. It wasn’t until Ryan Howard went down at the beginning of July that the Phillies found a place for him.

Darin stuck with the team, hitting .247 with the aforementioned 14 homers, a .348 on-base percentage, and a .458 slugging percentage in 73 games. Once again, he struggled somewhat in the field, but not mightily. His 30 RBI were nothing to write home about – neither were his 91 strikeouts – but he certainly showed enough promise to give me him a chance to earn a corner of the outfield on Opening Day of 2014, right?

Not for the Phillies. They seemed content with John Mayberry Jr.’s tremendously weak bat (literally, have you seen that thing? It may be skinnier than AJ Burnett’s forearm. Na, just kidding, nothing is skinnier than that). Last season, Maryberry hit a lusty .227 with a .286 OBP, a slugging percentage under .400, and three less homers than Ruf in 100 more at-bats. This season, Mayberry is doing his best to prove his critics right, batting .222 with a .323 OBP and just five dingers in 57 games.

Ruf, meanwhile, got the call up once again in late May, only to be bumped back down two weeks later, so the team could add more depth to a Mike Adams-less bullpen. Then, as the ultimate sign that karma is real and sometimes immediate, Ruf crashed into the wall during his first game following the demotion. He broke his wrist. He’s just now starting his rehab assignment in Clearwater, FL. His statline for the year so far reads as follows: 10 at-bats, one hit, one solo home run.

Holy Smoke, Bullwinkle! We suck

Currently, the Phillies outfield, like most other areas of the team is a mess (gee, I wonder why they’re 10 games under .500). Marlin Byrd, the second-biggest splash of the offseason (Burnett’s $16 million forearms being the biggest – or smallest), has actually held his own, which is more than you can say for his stoogish counterparts. You don’t have to even look at the statistics (but do, anyway) to observe the ineptness Rocky and Bullwinkle, a.k.a. Ben Revere and Dom Brown, in the field and especially at the plate. These two bring so little to the table. They are the living embodiments of Ruben’s failures as GM, and the Phillies’ crushed dreams.

I don’t know who Ruf pissed off in the front office. He’s been snubbed twice now. Yet Ruben clings to his once “untouchable” bust of an outfielder and a guy who looks like a 10 year old that got stuck with an XL jersey. There seems to be no rational thought behind it. Maybe he’s just waiting for Ruf to get back to full health before he drops Mayberry back down in favor of Ruf. Who knows? And I know the two are directly related, but I blame Ruf’s injury on Amaro’s boneheaded decision to demote him. The baseball gods strike with a vengance.

Ruf has proven, on more than one occasion, that he can hit, and hit for power. He may not be an All-Star (a title that will never again be mistakenly bestowed on Brown), but he at least deserves a spot on the bench. A team that so desperately lacks offensive production and power needs any spark it can get. Once he gets healthy, there is no reason Ruf should not be back with the team.

The good news is, Byrd or even Howard could be traded before the July 31 trade deadline, leaving a possible spot for Ruf. Darin’s not getting any younger; he turns 28 later this month. If there was ever a time to let the man play, it’s now, in yet another lost season, as you start to look to rebuild.

Then again, it doesn’t look like that whole “rebuild” thing is happening anytime soon.

Amaro and Hinkie should have lunch sometime.

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