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April 16, 2016

Ruf in the outfield, and Mackanin says roster move may be next for slumping bats

Twelve games into the season, after an offseason when everyone making decisions emphasized the improvements the team had made to its outfield defense, and said it’d be a priority to keep that in place in 2016, the Phillies have decided to sacrifice some of that defense for offense.

Darin Ruf is set to make his first start of the season in left field against Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals on Saturday night. (Ruf is 2-for-6 with a double and two strikeouts in his career against Scherzer).

“I need to get a little offense in there,” manager Pete Mackanin said of adding Ruf into his lineup.

When the season began, the right-handed hitting Ruf was set to platoon with the left-handed hitting Ryan Howard at first base. But Ruf has made use of one start in 11 games (although he was unavailable to start two games this week with a sore shoulder).

“I don’t want him to go too long without facing right-handers,” Mackanin said. “He’s going to play against some right-handers. I just needed some kind of infusion of offense, if we can come up with one.”

Much has been made about the Phillies starting pitching staff following a week that included both Vince Velasquez and his 16-strikeout, no-walk shutout and Jerad Eickhoff and his "unhittable" curveball on the mound at Citizens Bank Park. The rotation had a 2.14 ERA through the team’s first 10 games (prior to Friday’s night’s shellacking).

But even when their pitchers have dominated, the Phils have failed to scratch out more than a couple of runs a night in the first two weeks of the 2016 season.

The Phillies enter Saturday night with 30 runs in 11 games, or 2.73 runs per game. It’s the lowest runs-per-game in the National League and fourth in baseball, behind Minnesota (1.9 RPG), Tampa Bay (2.4) and Oakland (2.64).

A big part of the offense’s struggles have come from the team’s two corner outfield spots, where Peter Bourjos and Cedric Hunter have played most regularly, with Tyler Goeddel and Emmanuel Burris seeing some starting, time, too.

Entering Saturday night, Phillies corner outfielders were batting .129 (9-for-70) with a home run, four doubles and 21 strikeouts and two walks in the team’s first 11 games.

“You can’t get around it - it’s not good,” Mackanin said. “So we either have to get those guys going or doing something. … If we don’t show improvement, we’ll probably make a change.”

Cody Asche (oblique) hasn’t begun baseball activities yet and Mackanin said top outfield prospect Nick Williams (who began the season at Triple-A) is “not yet” on the radar for a big league promotion.

Will Venable, the eight-year big league veteran signed at the end of spring training? He’s hitting .063 (1-for-16) in five games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If the addition comes internally, the most likely name is probably Darnell Sweeney.

The 25-year-old Sweeney, acquired from the Dodgers in last August’s Chase Utley trade, is hitting .250 with an .848 OPS in seven games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Sweeney has a double and two triples, and as many walks as strikeouts (three).

David Lough, hitting .280 (.725) for the Pigs, is another option.

Both Lough and Sweeney, who has played both second base and center field with the IronPigs, aren’t likely to be the final answers for a Phillies corner outfield spot. Neither is Ruf. (Williams will be, whenever he is ready. June?)

Until then, Mackanin will look to make upgrades however he can with the roster he’s been dealt.