The Philadelphia Phillies anticipated first base platoon is experiencing some interesting developments early in spring training.
Barring some debilitating injury, the playing time at first base for the Phillies at the start of the 2016 season was expected by many to be fairly clear-cut.
This wasn’t just some ill-defined opinion. It was the reality of the analysis of more than 6,000 big league plate appearances for ‘The Big Piece’ and more than 700 appearances by Ruf.
Ruf kills left-handers. Howard rips righties. Meanwhile, Ruf is putrid against right-handed pitching, while Howard is simply clueless against southpaws. All of the statistics back up these simple statements.
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However, over the first 10 days of spring training down in Clearwater, a couple of interesting developments have emerged that, if they continue, could signal a change that what seemed a well-conceived straight platoon plan for manager Pete Mackanin.
First, Howard simply has not played much. He appeared in just three games during the first week of Grapefruit League games before succumbing to a flu bug that has been making its way around the Phils’ clubhouse. In those three games he went 0-8, striking out three times.
One of the results has been that Ruf has seen increased playing time against righties, and he is producing. In nine games and across 21 at-bats, Ruf is hitting .286 with a .762 slugging percentage. He has three home runs, a double, and eight RBI thus far in the early going.
Even more importantly, Ruf is killing right-handed pitching to this point down in Florida. He has a .385/.429/.923 slash line with two homers and a double over 13 at-bats against righties.
Now let’s get some perspective, that is an extremely small sample size that could be indicative of nothing more than a temporary hot spell. However, here is the fact that has always been true with Ruf: he does not need to kill right-handers. All he needs to do is show that he has a clue against them, that he is not a near automatic out in the lineup when one is on the hill.
Howard is due to return to the lineup this afternoon against the Atlanta Braves, when former longtime teammate Kyle Kendrick is due to take the mound. It sounds like a juicy matchup for Piece to get back into the swing, literally and figuratively. However, he has been off for almost a week, and should not be expected to get his timing back immediately.
For now, the reality of their career numbers still has to take precedence over some short period of spring success for Ruf. But if Howard should struggle mightily over the next three weeks, and Ruf should continue to show that he may indeed be putting together a greatly improved game plan against righties, what was once presumed may end up being scuttled.
If those early results and circumstances should indeed turn into true trends, then there may indeed end up being a battle, and not a strict platoon, for first base playing time with the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies.