What's strange about Darin Ruf's precarious position with the Phillies is that the man who should understand it the most seems to have the least compassion about it.
Twenty-two years ago, there was an outfielder in his late 20s who had tremendous minor-league numbers and was sure he was ready for a more expanded role in the big leagues. When it never came with the Phillies, he asked for a trade after the 1993 season and, after his wish was granted, he left town with a chip on his shoulder.
"They didn't think I could help them and that's their prerogative," Ruben Amaro Jr. said after being traded to the Cleveland Indians in a deal the Phillies won by acquiring closer Heathcliff Slocumb.
Ruf, 28, is a much different player than Amaro, but he is having the same difficult time finding a place to play more regularly in the Phillies' lineup. You would think a team in the first season of a major rebuilding project would be dying to find out if a guy with a career .805 OPS and 20 home runs in 386 at-bats has what it takes to flash that kind of power over the course of a season.
We saw during the Phillies' opening-day loss to Boston that power can still be a lethal weapon at Citizens Bank Park. Five batted balls by the Red Sox found a resting place in the left-field seats after clearing the short outfield wall.
Ruf, meanwhile, never left the Phillies' bench.
He also arrived for work Easter morning unsure if he was even going to be part of the Phillies' 25-man roster.
"To be honest with you, I was," Ruf said. "We had like a little hitting session here at the field [Sunday] and some of us took the field. They told [Jordan] Danks [he had not made the team] after he had already put his stuff on, which is tough. I never got called in."
Ruf's source of uncertainty had to be the comments made by Amaro near the end of spring training. The general manager said he did not know if there would be a place for him on the roster.
During the offseason, Amaro said Ruf had not done anything in 2014 to step up and take away a job at either first base or left field, a laughable comment considering how little opportunity he had been given. Ruf started three straight games at first base from July 23-25, then made a total of 20 starts at the two positions and had 83 at-bats over the final 59 games of the season.
In 25 starts last season, Ruf batted .282 with eight doubles, three home runs, seven RBIs and an .848 OPS. In 104 career starts, he has 21 doubles, 20 home runs and an .848 OPS. No Phillies player with at least 250 plate appearances has a higher OPS than Ruf's .884 at Citizens Bank Park since 2012.
Those numbers scream for Ruf to get more of a chance. The Phillies find reasons not to give him one. Amaro has made it clear that he does not think Ruf moves well enough to be a regular outfielder. Manager Ryne Sandberg seemed to want to give Ruf more playing time at first base last season, but that idea was nixed from above. The Phillies want to move Ryan Howard, but you wonder if his departure will just be an opening for Maikel Franco rather than an opportunity for Ruf.
To his credit, Ruf has handled his situation far better than Amaro did more than two decades ago.
"Sure, you want to be an everyday guy, but at the same time there is always roles for guys on rosters and right now my role is coming off the bench," Ruf said. "Maybe it's playing some first base against tough lefties or playing left field against some tough lefties. Things like that.
"My goal this year is to stay healthy and get as many at-bats as possible. I think I did a decent job at it last year, learning as I went along how to prepare for that type of role, too. I'm not confused. I know where things stand and things might not be the same in a couple of months. You never know with injuries and things that happen throughout the course of a year. Roles change. Hopefully I'll be able to step up if something does happen."
When two scouts were asked about Ruf recently they had their doubts and concerns.
"I'd say the game is getting a little fast for him," one scout said. "I didn't see the quick bat and the quick reactions I have in the past. I saw a slow body that looks thicker and a little heavier. Not a lot of first-step quickness. He didn't seem to be in as good a shape as previous years. I think he's on a team that is going to afford him the opportunity to play and it's in his best interest to be ready when they do."
The other scout said he sees Ruf as a designated hitter who should play mostly against lefthanded pitching. Told that Ruf has never made an error in 68 outfield appearances, the scout said, "he never gets to anything, either."
It's entirely possible that Ruf is not capable of being an everyday player in the big leagues. It's also entirely impossible to know for sure unless he gets a chance. Ruben Amaro Jr. should know that better than anybody.