WASHINGTON - Reinforcements are on the way for baseball's worst team. At shortstop, in the outfield, and on the mound, the Phillies' farm system features prospects who could be ready to matriculate to the major-league level as early as next season.
The same cannot be said for first base, though, where the Phillies lack a young player to give playing time in 2016. And thus, a continuation of the straight platoon between Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf is the team's most likely scenario again for next season.
Howard is expected back with the Phillies for his age-36 campaign, the final season of the five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed in April 2010 and went into effect years later. At this point in his career, he is best-suited as a platoon player. If the rest of the Phillies' lineup is filled out by young players who could factor into the team's future, a Howard-Ruf platoon is far from a team's worst option.
Although he is no longer as productive as an everyday player, Howard's numbers against righthanders this season are more than respectable. Pair his .802 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against righthanders with Ruf's 1.110 OPS against lefthanders, and the Phillies have a productive offensive first baseman.
In a perfect world, the Phillies would surely like to go younger at first base. The position, however, might be the thinnest of any in their system. Rhys Hoskins, a fifth-round draft pick in 2014, is their best first-base prospect playing higher than low-A ball, and he reached high-A Clearwater only in mid-June. (Hoskins, 22, compiled a .904 OPS over 243 at-bats in high A.)
Ruf, 29, came into Saturday's game batting only .152 against righthanded pitchers but hitting .382 against lefthanders. Among major-leaguers with 100 plate appearances against lefthanders this season, only Arizona star Paul Goldschmidt's OPS (1.118) was better than Ruf's coming into Saturday.
Ruf, who has played every day since Howard bruised his left knee on Sept. 14, has hit 10 home runs this season. His solo shot off Washington Nationals righthander Jordan Zimmermann on Friday night was just his third against a righthanded pitcher.
"I think I've set myself up in a situation where, hopefully, I have a good starting point for next year," he said. "That's all you can ask for, is a place to start from, and then kind of let your play do the talking. Hopefully things fall into place, and you play well and you perform well and keep getting opportunities."
Howard, who took batting practice for the second consecutive day on Saturday, is hitting .256 against righthanders and a dismal .130 against lefthanders.
Coming into Saturday, his .418 OPS against lefthanders was the worst among the 217 major-league hitters to garner at least 100 plate appearances against southpaws. His .802 OPS against righthanders, though, ranked 57th among 161 qualified hitters.
Overall, despite Howard's mighty struggles against lefthanders and Ruf's against righthanders, the Phillies have gotten middle-of-the-pack offensive production from their first basemen in 2015. The combined .758 OPS from first basemen ranked 18th in the majors entering Saturday's games.
Odubel Herrera, mired in a 2-for-21 slump, was given Saturday's game off. His once-.302 batting average is down to .288, still best on the Phillies. . . . Twenty of Jerad Eickhoff's last 25 strikeouts have come on his curveball. His 10-strikeout performance Friday was the team's first from a rookie righthander since Garrett Stephenson struck out 12 St. Louis Cardinals in May 1997.