Former Phillies Hunter Pence, Darin Ruf probable Giants DHs

Darin Ruf of the San Francisco Giants (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
Darin Ruf of the San Francisco Giants (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images) /

Two former Phillies sluggers, Hunter Pence and Darin Ruf, could be Giants DHs

Just as Philadelphia Phillies non-roster invitee utility player Neil Walker believes he will benefit from the expanded 30-man rosters at the start of the 2020 season, one of the team’s former sluggers — San Francisco Giants non-roster invitee Darin Ruf — could as well.

In a recent Zoom chat with broadcasters, Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi twice mentioned Ruf as a potential designated hitter opposite left-handed pitchers. Also, fellow former Phillie slugger Hunter Pence, along with non-roster invitee corner infielder Pablo Sandoval, were brought up as other DH possibilities for manager Gabe Kapler‘s new team.

“I think we’re going to stay in-house and I know Gabe and his staff are excited to have another lineup spot to play with,” Zaidi said.

“I feel like with some of the performances that we were getting in spring training, we were wondering how we were going to get at-bats for everybody,” he continued. “This may create an opportunity; you take a guy like Darin Ruf, whose primary position is first base. We obviously have Brandon Belt over there and maybe this opens up more at-bats for him.”

Zaidi also mentioned how veterans Pence and Sandoval will also benefit from the DH by receiving more at-bats; when talking about the former Phillies outfielder, in particular, he said he has no doubts Pence will fight to get in the starting lineup every day.

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Coming into spring on a minor-league deal, Ruf slashed an impressive .429/.469/1.000 with five doubles, one triple, three home runs and nine RBI spanning 32 plate appearances. Zaidi mentioned that with the National League West having a lot of left-handed pitching, Ruf and Pence are right-handed bats that the Giants can use against the tough southpaws, adding: “We might see more matching up; if you have more roster spots, you can carry more guys that might be in specialized roles and kind of platoon.”

Just as the Giants appear to be exploring using multiple players as the designated hitters in the upcoming 60-game sprint, so are Girardi and the Phillies. Last week on MLB Network, Girardi said he will have to be “smart” and “careful” when adjusting to the unprecedented MLB season to make sure players are not getting overused.

“There is a fine line as managers that we walk to making sure that players aren’t overused,” Girardi said. “Because think about it: if you hurt someone or they go on the DL for two or three weeks, that could cost you your season.”

Girardi mentioned using the designated hitter as a strategic way to keep strong hitters in the lineup who could use a day off in the field, mentioning J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce.

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“How many games will they play before they go into the regular season compared to the normal spring training? I think you’re going to have to use the DH strategically to get them off their feet a little bit,” Girardi said.

Pence, Ruf and Sandoval — 37, 33, and 33 years of age, respectively — are similar veterans who would benefit from a day off in the field, but remain in the lineup as the DH. All three of their bats would make an impact on an otherwise underwhelming Giants starting lineup.

This past offseason, Kapler’s Giants brought back Pence and Sandoval — both members of their 2012 and 2014 World Series championship teams. Pence signed to a one-year, $3 million contract to return to San Francisco, where he played for seven seasons from 2012-2018 — after his brief, 155-game stint with the Phillies in the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012.

Sandoval’s second go-around with the Giants began in the summer of 2017 after a stint with the Boston Red Sox in between. The Giants re-signed their 2012 World Series MVP — who underwent Tommy John surgery in September to repair a torn UCL in his right elbow —to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

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Ruf, meanwhile, appears likely to appear in his first Major League game since his 2012-16 stint with the Phillies, where he slugged 35 home runs and 96 RBI across 286 games and 833 plate appearances. Since, the Omaha, Nebraska, native played overseas in the Korean Baseball Organization. From 2017-19, Ruf combined to hit 86 home runs and 350 RBI while averaging just north of 130 games in each of the three seasons.

Ruf’s power that he fine-tuned in the KBO carried over to the Giants’ spring training earlier this year with his nine extra-base hits, including three home runs, across 32 plate appearances.

The former Phillies skipper, Kapler, recently said he wants to treat the short season “like playoff games.”  Zaidi mentioned in the Zoom chat that the Giants had a really good spring training in March and were excited about how their team was shaping up: “Even though it winds up being a cliche for teams that maybe don’t go into the season as consensus contenders, but, we felt like we had a chance to surprise some people,” he said.

That seems to be a similar consensus in the Phillies’ camp as well.

It will be interesting to see how the Giants and Kapler incorporate Ruf’s bat into the lineup, and whether his recent displays of power carry over into the 2020 season.