It’s early yet, but this spring training definitely has a different feel to it than last year, at least as far as the Philadelphia Phillies are concerned. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and even with a scorecard some of these names are foreign. One very familiar name is Darin Ruf, the enigmatic first baseman who broke Ryan Howard’s minor league home run record at double A Reading.
Darin has been chasing the ghost of Ryan Howard ever since, and much as Jim Thome had blocked Howard’s path to 1B, Howard has blocked Ruf. Howard didn’t have enough athleticism to play anywhere but 1B, so he was stuck in the minors until Thome was gone. But Ruf was convertible to the outfield, so he had two tours, one in LF and one in RF, until the Phillies let him time share at 1B toward the end of last year because Howard was so inept at hitting left handed pitching and Ruf struggled equally against right handed pitching.
This spring was supposed to be a last chance for Howard to show that he might be able to hit left-handers well enough to earn more playing time, but no one really expected that he would be more of a platoon player. But the Baseball Gods decided to visit Ryan with the flu, which meant that Ruf would get more playing time particularly on a day like today when the Phillies had a split squad game. Ruf stayed in Clearwater with the start at 1B while Reading’s hot hitting 1B last year, Brock Stassi, earned the platoon start simultaneously in Fort Meyers against the Twins. Ruf had homered in yesterday’s game in Bradenton off Pirates’ left hander Jonathon Niese, and today he opened some eyes by homering not once but twice — and against two right handed pitchers, no less.
Add in a sparkling defensive play at 1B and one is tempted to say that Babe Ruf may be back. It will be one of the intrigues of spring training to see how the rest of this will play out …