Now that Darin Ruf has returned to the big league roster after a spring training injury, the Phillies need to get him onto the field.
Though the right-handed slugger can play a corner outfield position, it might make more sense for the Phillies to get him at bats playing first base.
It is a simple argument to make. Ryan Howard, 34, has struck out in nearly half of his at bats against a left-handed pitcher, 25 times in 52 tries.
It isn’t ironic, then that Ruf, 27, hit a homer off lefty Jorge De La Rosa Tuesday night, his first long ball since returning to the 25-man roster?
But not so fast. Howard, who is off to a slow start but has been off to slow ones before, is due $25 million this season.
Can the Phillies afford to waste that money on the bench? Or should they be optimistic and give him the time he needs to start using the entire field and hitting for power as the weather heats up?
Manager Ryne Sandberg is open to the idea. Which makes sense, because with an offense as lackluster and inconsistent as the 2014 Phillies’ is, the team better be open to almost anything.
“Yeah, if it happens to work,” Sandberg told reporters. “It’s an opportunity to have a lineup like that, and if it produces that becomes an opportunity . . . to possibly get some consistency with the offense against right-handed and left-handed pitching.”
Howard has hit just .183 against lefties over the last three seasons while Ruf has a career mark of .363 against south paws.
Howard is also somewhat of a liability defensively, though his work at first base has steadily improved as the season has gone on. But in late game situations, Sandberg has repeatedly lifted Howard for a defensive replacement like John Mayberry Jr.
“I think he has come a long way on the defensive side,” Sandberg said of Howard. “I think he has gotten in better shape as we’ve gone along. He’s moving around real good at first base. He has been a little bit inconsistent and possibly has gone out of the strike zone at times. I still say that he can hit a strike in the zone off a left-handed pitcher or a right-handed pitcher, but he’s gone a little bit out of the zone at times.”
Howard’s deal with the Phillies could last until 2017 and net him $25 million a season until then.