DARIN RUF'S first home run of the season - in his second start - accounted for one of only two runs the Phillies scored on Tuesday, but he was not in the starting lineup on Wednesday.
He was not in the lineup last night, either.
Ruf was out of the starting lineup for the seventh time in nine games since he was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley while manager Ryne Sandberg continued to insert the least-productive leftfielder in the National League into his batting order.
Domonic Brown was slotted between Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz in Sandberg's lineup. He went 0-for-3 in a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets, dropping his average down to .200 (35-for-175) after 49 games.
"Those are opportunities for that player, chances for that player and a vote of confidence from me," Sandberg said a day earlier. "It shows I have confidence in them to get it going."
But one has to wonder if the manager's patience is wearing thin, especially with a perfectly capable fallback option in Ruf. Ruf, who missed the first 6 weeks with an oblique injury, was sent to Lehigh Valley when he was activated from the disabled list.
Wouldn't it serve the Phillies and both players well if they changed positions, with Ruf getting a look as the team's regular leftfielder and Brown getting regular at-bats in the minor leagues, where results don't matter and the spotlight isn't nearly as bright?
"Not at this stage," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Daily News when asked if sending Brown down as an option. "We have to get Dom right here before we start thinking about that stuff."
Brown has shown the ability to break out before. Just a year ago, he hit .233 with six extra-base hits in April before exploding for 18 home runs (while hitting .290 with a .939 OPS) in May and June.
But the 2014 season is 2 months old and there is only one leftfielder in baseball who has been less productive.
Brown's .564 OPS and .262 OBP ranked 17th out of 18 major league outfielders with at least 175 plate appearances. (The White Sox' Alejandro De Aza was the only one below Brown.)
No major league leftfielder has fewer extra-base hits than Brown, who had 10 in 48 games before last night. Among all 54 qualifying outfielders, including rightfielders and centerfielders, too, Brown's OPS ranked 51st.
"[Pitchers] are expanding the zone and he's having a hard time laying off of those pitches," Sandberg said. "I see him getting fastballs, pitches in, pitches away, and he's just not connecting on his pitch.
"I know that he's trying. I don't know if he's trying too hard or overtrying, it seems like when he hit balls hard, he gets nothing to show for it. Maybe it's a combination of getting a hit or two in a couple games to get his confidence going the other way."
If Brown's confidence is in question, you can argue that getting away from the big leagues and the pressures that come with producing could be beneficial.
Brown was an All-Star a year ago, but he certainly wouldn't be the first established big-leaguer sent to the minor leagues. Roy Halladay famously accepted an assignment all the way back to Class A after two-plus seasons in the big leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays and Brett Myers had a monthlong stay at Triple A midway through the 2008 season.
Myers was 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA in 17 starts when he was sent to Triple A. When he returned, Myers went 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA in 13 starts.
But, according to Amaro, Brown isn't a candidate for a similar mental break from a major league slump.
"No," Amaro said. "Dom's got to keep playing. He's got to keep getting opportunities to play . . . We have to have him get back to swinging the way he can."
With both Brown and Ruf on the big-league roster, it will be a daily tough task for Sandberg to determine who to play.
"It's up to the players," Sandberg said. "I've said before, the players sometimes make up the lineup."
In his last extended stay in a major league lineup, Ruf hit .247 with an .806 OPS and 14 home runs in 73 games over the final 2 1/2 months of last season. Last August, only two major league players, Miguel Cabrera and Alfonso Soriano, hit more home runs than Ruf's nine.
The Phillies would also have some depth in the outfield even without Brown, as both John Mayberry Jr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. could serve as defensive replacements for Ruf, if needed.
Cliff Lee is still has a "little slight sensation" in his left elbow, according to Ryne Sandberg. Lee will be examined daily but won't resume his throwing program until the pain subsides. Yesterday marked the 10th day since Lee had thrown. With each day away from throwing, his return will be pushed back since Lee will have to build up arm strength again through long toss, bullpen sessions and rehab starts . . . Ryan Howard is three RBI short of 1,000 in his career. Barring an injury, he will likely become the fastest player in major league history to reach 1,000 RBI. Albert Pujols currently holds that title: He recorded his 1,000th RBI in his 1,257th game. Howard played in his 1,228th last night . . . Righthander Ethan Martin is experiencing "dead arm" issues at Lehigh Valley, according to Sandberg. Martin has a 1.86 ERA in seven games with the IronPigs; he has 10 strikeouts and three walks in 9 2/3 innings. But his velocity has reportedly been down. Martin began 2014 on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation.