SAN FRANCISCO -- After spending the last three seasons playing in South Korea, Darin Ruf signed a Minor League deal with the Giants in January to take one more shot at the Majors.
He quickly emerged as one of the best storylines of Spring Training after going 12-for-28 (.429) with three home runs, five doubles and one triple over 14 Cactus League games. But just as Ruf appeared on the verge of making the Giants’ Opening Day roster, the sport was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three months later, Ruf seemed to pick up where he left off in March, slugging a pair of doubles during the Giants’ second round of modified live batting practice at Oracle Park on Thursday. Ruf, 33, delivered his first hit to right field off Dereck Rodríguez before crushing another drive off the left-field wall against lefty Sam Selman.
“I don't think my swing is where it should be, where it was in Spring Training,” Ruf said during a Zoom call with reporters. “I've been swinging now for maybe five or six days. … Hopefully as we take more live at-bats, we'll all get more dialed in.”
Ruf spent the shutdown at his home in Omaha, Neb., where he soon found himself tuning in to watch his old KBO teammates on ESPN. Given the uncertainty surrounding the return of baseball in the United States, he considered returning to Asia, where he batted .313 with a .968 OPS and 86 home runs over 404 games with the Samsung Lions.
“I think everyone was looking for an opportunity to play baseball this year, and at the time, things didn't look great over here,” Ruf said. “I was trying to do what was right for my family and the future. I'm probably closer towards the end of my career, so I definitely wanted to play at some point this year and not have this be the end.”
Ruf received interest from an NPB team in Japan, but the Giants couldn’t sell his contract due to a transaction freeze enacted by Major League Baseball. While that opportunity didn’t materialize, Ruf said he’s glad to be back in action with the Giants and attempting to return to the Majors for the first time since 2016.
“I think everyone handled it very professionally, with as much respect as we could through the tough times and all the uncertainty,” Ruf said. “I'm happy to be here absolutely, and I'm happy to be in the position I'm in to help this team.”
Ruf should have an easier time carving out a role with the Giants following the implementation of the universal designated hitter this year. Manager Gabe Kapler said he views Ruf as a candidate to draw at-bats at first base, left field and DH, particularly against left-handed pitching.
“He continues to find the barrel,” Kapler said. “He continues to drive the baseball, continues to have professional, good at-bats and use the entire field. … Darin has been one of the highlights of camp thus far.”
Ruf, who has a career .921 OPS against lefties in the Majors, said he was drawn to the Giants partly because of the abundance of southpaws in the National League West.
“It was appealing just because I know the division,” Ruf said. “I know there are a lot of lefties. I knew I would possibly be able to carve out a role on this team, and I was really excited for that.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ruf starting against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw on Opening Day in two weeks, but the power hitter said he isn’t allowing himself to think that far ahead just yet.
“I'm not trying to look too far down the road because I still have to try to make the team,” Ruf said. “I don't want to let that opportunity slip away. I need to take it day to day here and make sure my body is ready. Take advantage of the live at-bats. I don't know when they have to have the Opening Day rosters in, but hopefully I'm on it. Once I am, then I can turn my attention to the Dodgers.”
García, Hamilton to IL
Major League Baseball has instituted a COVID-19 list this season, although clubs will not announce which players are placed on it due to privacy laws regarding individuals’ health. Players may address their status if they wish, though they are not required to do so. Merely being placed on an injured list without further explanation is not confirmation that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. For example, potential exposure to a person who has the virus can be sufficient cause.
2021 schedule released
Major League Baseball released the schedule for the 2021 season on Thursday, announcing that the Giants will play their season opener against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park on April 1. Their home opener is scheduled for April 9 against the Rockies.