Phils' Ruf off to powerful spring start

The Associated Press
  • Darin Ruf is 6 for 21 this spring with three homers and eight RBIs.
  • He is a lifetime .300 hitter vs. left-handers, with 16 homers in 243 at-bats.
  • Against right-handers, Ruf is just a .212 lifetime hitter with 16 homers in 411 at-bats.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Darin Ruf is showing he's ready to be more than a role player.

Ruf has three homers in his last two games for Philadelphia, including a pair against Baltimore on Wednesday. The 29-year-old slugger is expected to platoon with Ryan Howard at first base, but he'll earn more playing time if he keeps smashing baseballs.

Philadelphia Phillies' Darin Ruf lines a two-run single against the New York Yankees earlier this spring. Ruf has already belted three spring homers.

"It's everyone's goal to become an everyday player in the majors," Ruf said. "You have to earn that right and prove yourself."

Ruf is a career .300 hitter with 16 homers and 42 RBIs in 243 at-bats against left-handers. He has a .946 OPS against them in four seasons, including 1.107 last year. Hitting right-handers has been Ruf's problem, however. He has a .212 average with 16 homers and 45 RBIs against them in 411 career at-bats.

So, Ruf's two homers off Orioles righties Yovani Gallardo and Vance Worley were encouraging.

"I just love to be out there playing and hitting and trying to help my team win whether that's facing lefties or righties or whoever," he said. "I try to embrace my role and do as well in it as I can."

Ruf burst on the scene in 2012 when he started hitting bombs with regularity at Double-A Reading, earning the nickname "Babe." He smacked 38 homers, including 20 in August that year. He hit three more in 33 at-bats with the Phillies in September, and tore up the Venezuelan League in winter ball. His 38 homers at Reading broke Howard's former club record.

The Phillies tried Ruf in left field the following spring because Howard and his big contract blocked his path at first base. But Ruf didn't make the most of the opportunity and was a defensive liability.

With Howard declining — .226 average and .704 OPS over the past two years — and in the final year of his contract, the rebuilding Phillies are more likely to give Ruf a chance to play more first base this season.

Off-field woes take toll on Howard

"He's in a pretty good groove right now," bench coach Larry Bowa said. "He's swinging with confidence and playing good defense."

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ruf looks stronger this spring, though he said he didn't focus too much on weight training in the offseason. Instead, he worked with former Red Sox outfielder Dwayne Hosey on his hitting in Omaha, Nebraska.

"I spent a lot of time working on refining an approach at the plate so when I showed up it would be something I stick with for a while," Ruf said. "I worked on incorporating my lower half more and being balanced when I hit and when I land with my stride. That way, if it's a heater, I'm on time with it and if it's a breaking ball, I can stay on my legs and react and remain stable and see it."

Ruf is 6 for 21 with three homers, one double and eight RBIs so far. He knows the only stats that count start next month.

"You want to swing it well and earn a role and spot on the team, but it's what you do from April to October that really matters," Ruf said.

Franco continues to sizzle in spring: Maikel Franco hit a pair of two-run homers off Jordan Zimmermann, giving him four in the eight spring training games he has played this year and helping the Phillies tie the Detroit Tigers 6-6 Thursday.

The 23-year-old hit 14 home runs in 80 games last year during his breakout rookie season, cut short by a wrist injury in August.

"He looks so much different than he has in past springs," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I think he feels he's in for a big year, and I'm hoping he is."

Zimmermann allowed four runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings.

"He likes to get his arm extended and if you leave something over the middle, he's going to make you pay," Zimmermann said of Franco. "They have a lot of young guys on that team, and they're free swingers. It's a little more difficult to set them up when you know they're probably going to be hacking and knowing I throw a lot of strikes, they're going to be up there swinging."

Philadelphia's Aaron Nola gave up a wind-aided two-run homer to James McCann in the third inning. Nola has allowed six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in two starts.

Notes: The Phils' Cody Asche had an MRI on his ailing right oblique that showed a grade 1 strain. He remains day to day but has been stopped from the light hitting work he had been doing in the last week. ,,,, Phils' right-hander Charlie Morton was scratched from his scheduled start on Friday with flu-like symptoms. First baseman Ryan Howard, who was out of the lineup for most of the last week with flu-like symptoms, is to return to the lineup Friday against the Braves. ,,, Three of the Phillies top pitching prospects were reassigned to minor league camp: RHPs Mark Appel, Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin.