CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Everybody knows Darin Ruf can hit left-handed pitching.But he sure looked comfortable against right-handed pitchers Wednesday in an 8-4 victory over the Orioles at Bright House Field. Ruf hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo and then belted a solo homer
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Everybody knows Darin Ruf can hit left-handed pitching.
But he sure looked comfortable against right-handed pitchers Wednesday in an 8-4 victory over the Orioles at Bright House Field. Ruf hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo and then belted a solo homer in the fourth against former Phillies righty Vance Worley.
Ruf hit three homers in the span of five at-bats, dating to Tuesday's game against the Pirates.
"It's still early," Ruf said. "These stats will be erased at the end of the month. You want to swing the bat well. You want to earn a spot on the team. But it's what you do from April to October that really matters."
Ruf, whose homer Tuesday came against Pirates lefty Jon Niese, entered Spring Training expecting to see plenty of playing time against left-handers. His 1.107 OPS against them in 2015 would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best mark in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Ruf's .946 OPS against lefties the past four seasons would rank 13th out of 311 players with 250 or more plate appearances against them.
Ruf has posted a .660 OPS in 456 career plate appearances against right-handers, which is why Phillies manager Pete Mackanin thinks it makes sense for the Phillies to platoon Ruf and Ryan Howard at first base. As much as Howard has struggled against righties in recent seasons, he had an .802 OPS against them last year. He has a .940 OPS against them in his career.
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"I just love to be out there playing and hitting and helping my team win," Ruf said about the possible platoon, which is a hot topic in Philadelphia. "Whether that's facing lefties, righties or whoever, I just want to embrace my role, do as well in it as I can. I feel like if you're doing well in your role, you can only increase that role. You can earn yourself more at-bats by doing well with the playing time you're getting."
Ruf said he entered this spring more comfortable than perhaps he has been in the past. He credited his offseason hitting program with former big leaguer Dwayne Hosey in Omaha, Neb., for that.
"I spent a lot of time this offseason working and refining an approach at the plate," Ruf said. "Over the last two or three years, I've had a lot of people tell me to do different things, try this, try that. I feel like in the offseason I didn't really have a solid plan in place [in the past]. This year, I tried to solidify something in the offseason, work on it for a while, so when I show up it is something I'm going to hopefully stick with for a while."
Ruf said that program included incorporating his lower body more, finding a better balance as he hits. Perhaps it will help him enjoy more success against righties. If he does, Mackanin could have a tougher decision on his hands.
"Ruf's in a pretty good groove," said Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa, who managed the team with Mackanin managing a split squad in Fort Myers. "He looks very comfortable. He's swinging the bat with a lot of confidence. What comes first? I don't know."
Asher's sinker: Phillies right-hander Alec Asher started in place of Jeremy Hellickson, who got scratched because of the flu. Asher allowed three hits, two runs and struck out five in three innings. He allowed a two-run home run to Manny Machado in the third.
Asher is competing for a job in the Phillies' rotation. He went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts last season, so he will have to really prove himself against other candidates like Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan.
But Asher hopes his two-seam fastball helps his cause. The pitch has been a focus this spring.
"I threw a lot of those today and I felt like they were working for the most part," Asher said. "Velocity only gets you so far. It was time to start working on something that moves a little bit. It's definitely a weapon that I would like to add."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.