Ruf looks to get back to lefty-crushing old self

February 22nd, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So convinced were the Mets by Darin Ruf’s track record heading into last August that they sent the Giants not only J.D. Davis, but three additional prospects in a trade to acquire him. The results quickly teetered toward a worst-case scenario. Ruf did not hit a home run with his new team, producing a .413 OPS over 28 games and eventually losing playing time to 20-year-old rookie Francisco Álvarez.

“I think midseason trades are tough on anybody,” Ruf said Tuesday, when asked to reflect on that period. “Performance stems from being comfortable, being in a rhythm. Whenever a midseason trade happens, it affects people differently, and I think my performance suffered from that.”

Spring Training offers a second chance for Ruf, who is entering the final season of a two-year, $6.25 million contract he originally signed with the Giants. Already, it is not off to an ideal start, as Ruf received a cortisone injection at the beginning of camp to settle discomfort in his sore right wrist. He has been limited to fielding drills over the first two days of full-squad workouts, though he expects to be hitting again by the end of this week and said his overall concern level is zero.

Consider it another false start for Ruf, whose history as an elite slugger against left-handed pitchers included nine homers and a 1.007 OPS as recently as 2021. His career OPS versus lefties is .891, which ranks in the top 9% of qualified hitters (at least 500 plate appearances) since 2012, when Ruf broke into the league.

“Ruf has hit lefties in his career, and has been one of the top hitters in the game for a long time,” hitting coach Jeremy Barnes said. “Yes, it would have been awesome if he would have had the big hits and all that kind of stuff that he wanted, but it was a pretty small sample size.”

Barnes, like Ruf, noted the “emotional component” of struggling with a new team -- especially in a market like New York, where he regularly heard boos at Citi Field.

“I probably could have done a little bit better of a job than I did,” Ruf said. “It was a learning experience. I know I have grown from it.”

Both manager Buck Showalter and GM Billy Eppler have cited Ruf’s career-long track record as the reason for their confidence heading into 2023. When this season begins, they hope Ruf and can form a potent DH platoon, as they did for a fleeting period immediately after the Trade Deadline. That’s the plan, anyway. That’s what the Mets are paying Ruf $3 million to do.

But Ruf’s rope will not be infinite. If he scuffles again, the Mets know, multiple in-house solutions lurk in Tommy Pham, Álvarez and Mark Vientos, all of whom have histories of success against left-handed pitchers.

Time will tell if Ruf can hold off those challengers. Once Ruf’s wrist heals, his process of starting over with the Mets will begin.

“Obviously, I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to,” Ruf said. “I’m looking forward to a good spring, and hopefully helping this team in any way that I can.”