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April 13, 2016

Ruf can help Phillies outfield offensively, but is defensive loss worth the risk?

Darin Ruf may or may not be able to pinch hit in tonight’s game against the San Diego Padres.

Ruf, who has played sparingly 10 days into the Phillies 2016 schedule, suffered a contusion on his left rotator cuff while diving for a ball in the home opener on Monday after entering the game for Ryan Howard in the sixth inning.

Ruf has had a cortisone shot since and felt better about his chances of playing before the Phillies took batting practice on Wednesday than he did a day earlier. He was hoping to get reps in the indoor cage prior to first pitch.

“It was sore,” Ruf said of the initial play that caused the injury. “But as the night went on it just progressively got more and more sore to the point where, yesterday I came in and couldn’t fit my arm above (chest) without it really really hurting. It feels better – a lot better – today.”

When Ruf is healthy and available for regular duty, it remains unclear if he’ll play more often than he has thus far. Among position players, only Emmanuel Burris has fewer at-bats than Ruf.

Ruf has started just one game – the second game of the season in Cincinnati – and has a total of seven at-bats. It’s probably not how he envisioned playing time playing out when he left spring training.

Ruf hit .286 with five home runs and a 1.027 OPS in 24 games (56 at-bats) this spring. He had eight walks and 11 strikeouts.

“Coming out of spring training I was feeling good,” Ruf said, “and to have 6 or 7 at-bats so far a week, a week-and-a-half into the season, it’s — yeah, I could have hoped for a better way for this year to start, but again, it is only a week and a half into the season.”

Ruf was being diplomatic and is never going to be one to complain.

He opened the season as a platoon partner at first base with Ryan Howard, but, eight games into the season, there has been far more opportunity for the left-handed hitting Howard. But there’s an argument to be made that he should get at least the occasional start in the outfield, despite his defensive shortcomings.

Through the Phillies first eight games, their corner outfielders entered Wednesday hitting .123 (7-for-57) with 16 strikeouts and four walks. Phillies corner outfielders have a grand total of just three extra-base hits (all Peter Bourjos doubles) in 61 plate appearances.

Manager Pete Mackanin is very aware of the paltry production from his outfield. It only took him four games into the season to tell Ruf to begin to take fly balls in left field during batting practice before last weekend in New York.

But Ruf wasn’t run out to left field in any of the next three games. Will that change when he’s 100 percent healthy?

Or is defense still more important with a young starting pitching staff?

“Let’s put it this way - if there is no offense, you better have defense,” Mackanin said of his team, which has averaged three runs per game eight games into the season. “We’ve had some low scoring games and we’ve been able to hang on (lately). Still, in all, we have to hit better.”

Is there a metric that could let Mackanin or general manager Matt Klentak know how more important it is to have defense over offense in the corner outfield?

Emmanuel Burris, for example, started a game in left field in New York, but didn’t have one ball hit his way in eight innings. Would it have better (or at least a better, calculated risk) to start Ruf in left instead, and get at least four, likely-more-successful plate appearances out of the position?

“There’s always a give and take,” Klentak said. “It’s not just the case in the outfield. We can come up with different lineups that will be more offensively oriented or more defensively oriented. It’s just a matter of what we’re looking for that given day, for whoever the starting pitcher happens to be that day. But that’s really more of a question for Pete as far as how he makes out the lineup.”

Mackanin is more than content with the defense in the outfield.

“We get to more balls,” he said. “That really doesn’t show up if you don’t have as much coverage in the outfield, some of those balls are gappers that may lead to bigger innings. So it’s important to have that outfield coverage.”

But, unless he moves away from a straight platoon, and is able to work Ruf in more often at first base and sit Ryan Howard more often, it would appear that Ruf, even when his shoulder is healed, will continue to be the baseball equivalent of a healthy scratch. If the offense continues to struggle, however, perhaps Mackanin will be OK with sacrificing defense from at least one of his two corner outfield positions.

Mackanin has been regularly hitting his corner outfielders in the seventh and eighth spots of his lineup, as they are for tonight’s game:


Cody Asche will likely begin hitting at some point during the first week of May, general manager Matt Klentak said.

Asche first suffered a right oblique injury at the end of April and re-aggravated it shortly before the team broke camp two weeks ago. Asche was evaluated in Philadelphia this week.

“He seems to be making good progress,” Klentak said. “He’s in pretty good spirits.”