One of the most alarming things about this spring for the Philadelphia Phillies is that the people who they are counting the most on are having subpar springs. One of those people is first baseman Ryan Howard, and despite his hefty contract, the team should give him no more than the month of April to show them he still has it.
Howard has struggled the last two seasons, hitting exactly .176 in each season against left-handed pitching. By the end of April, a younger right-handed version of Howard, Darin Ruf, should return to the big club from an injury. If Howard hasn’t produced by then, Ruf should slot right into his spot in the order.
We’re not talking about giving up entirely on Howard here, just giving up on him as an everyday player.
Ruf was every bit the double-A player Howard was and more. Howard’s season in Reading was very impressive: 37 home runs, 107 RBIs and a .297 batting average. At Reading, Ruf broke Howard’s franchise home run record with 38 and added 104 RBIs with a .317 batting average. Ruf and Howard are similar players, with the key exception being that Ruf hits from the left side of the plate.
Since the Phillies are top-heavy on left-handed hitting (key hitters Chase Utley and Domonic Brown are both lefties), Ruf’s could provide a natural left/right balance in the batting order that did not exist.
It’s no secret that the Phillies would like to jettison at least part of that $125 million Howard contract, and keeping Ruf would be the more economical option. If Howard doesn’t like that prospect, then he can start hitting. It’s as simple as that.