I have a confession. I hate the Phillies right now. I hate them with a passion. I hate just about everything about the organization, and find it incredibly depressing to write about this team. I find it even more depressing to watch them on a nightly basis. Its hard. Hard to root (even half hearted) for losses for a protected pick, hard to try and grasp how Michael Martinez comes up with the bases loaded, even if the game is lost, in the middle of a lost season.
It's hard to watch this team, and have hope, and for those of you who are familiar with both my writing and my passion, you know me as a guy who lives and breathes hope. That's something that was ingrained in me by my dad, at a young age. At 8 years old I saw this team win a world series in 1980, then spent the better part of almost three decades rooting for losers. When the Charlie Manuel era began, and this team started winning, it was like I was a kid again. and to see that end, well..
But guess what? It's almost over. And while Michael Martinez is still around, both Young's are gone, and in a few weeks we'll start to turn our attention to 2014. Hope. A shining beacon of youth, free agency, international superstars, trade scenarios, winter meetings, and before you know it we'll be in Clearwater and everyone will be on even ground again.
And for me, there are two players that are getting me through this season. Two players who I am following closer than any others, who I believe have the opportunity, if things go right, to make huge differences for this teams fortunes in 2014, and two players who, if too much stock is put into their spots, could literally be the undoing of the team.
I'll be honest when I say I, like you, don't put the same effort into watching a Phillies game as I used to. I follow on the iPad, on gameday, but I'm actually watching whatever my wife has on the TV a little closer than I was in May.
Until Darin Ruf comes up, or Ethan Martin is on the mound.
When Ruf comes to the plate, I've got the game on live, and I'm following his pitch FX on game day. Every at bat. Religiously.
When Martin is on the bump, I'm tracking pitch counts and counting balls and strikes and looking at velocity.
For me, in a lot of ways, 2014 hinges on these two guys. Because for me, they're the two players who have the biggest likelihood to make a serious impact in spots we need an impact.
I have more concerns about Ruf than Martin. For most people its the other way around. But for Me, Darin Ruf is the guy that, if the Phillies believe too much in, can screw up the entire off season, and at the same time, if they don't have enough faith in, can do the same.
They have to be right about him, whatever his role. And what I've seen from Darin Ruf so far is two things:
1. Pitchers have started to exploit, with success, the outside part of the plate.
2. Ruf knows this.
The samples are too small to analyze. The BABIP issues are well documented, the insane reverse splits have everyone confused. Here's the facts.
In the series against Atlanta, he hit an opposite field home run off of David Carpenter to win the game, on a 3-2 pitch. He did this by laying off three balls outside and down, on an 0-2 count, all of which were designed to induce weak contact or a strike out, then capitalizing on a mistake that Carpenter laid a little too up, and not quite enough out.
That ladies and gentleman is what people are talking about when they throw around the misguided term "professional hitter"
And then, last night, with Chase Utley on second, he swung at the first pitch from Andrew Cashner, a sharp breaking ball down and away that may or may not have been a strike, and weakly grounded out to end the inning. The exact pitch he can't (and probably never will) make solid contact on, a pitch that you should never swing at first pitch, the kind of pitch that you should literally try and foul off with two strikes, in the hopes that you'll get something more hittable.
That ladies and gentlemen, is the polar opposite of what people are talking about when they throw around the misguided term "professional hitter".
Two pitchers, same scouting report, same idea. One gets Ruf to bite, the other gets bitten. See, the fallacy here is that Darin Ruf needs to be able to hit those shitty pitches to be successful. That's not the case. He's got to know they're coming, and lay off of them. Then capitalize on the mistakes.
So which Darin Ruf shows up in 2014? The one with the patience to lay off the crap, or the one too impatient to wait for his pitch? For me, that's a question i hope to get closer to understanding over the next 60 or so plate appearances he has left in the season. But if you're smart, you'll watch how he handles the outer half of the plate. Cause I promise you that's the key.
If he doesn't show some gradual improvement, at the very least the ability to lay off the crap? Those of you penciling him in as Howard's platoon partner, or the everyday RF/LF and the second coming of Greg Luzinski may be in for a rude awakening. But if he does? Oh baby.
I hope Ethan Martin as a reliever is for real.
I dream that Ethan Martin is Craig Kimbrel. I do. And the fact that they moved him to the bullpen might have been the single best moment of the season for me. And I know there are people out there who believe that he should be used in longer spurts, but when he came into that game last night and threw 10 pitches, ALL STRIKES to retire the side I got goosebumps. I poured out some OE on the carpet for Ryan Madson, and I got excited.
When the Phillies, down by 6 runs, with Martin already stretched out, went to their fourth pitcher of the evening in the next inning, after Martin had only thrown 10 pitches? I jumped up and screamed YES! Cause for me that was a tell tale sign that they want to do two things:
1. See how effective he is in short spurts. Can he control the control issues if he's limited to one inning?
2. They couldn't have asked for a better baptism by bullpen than 10 straight strikes. Give the kid some confidence, let him ride that high, and get him out of his head.
Cause make no mistake about it, Ethan Martin is a grade A head case. He goes out in that first inning and he's Nuclear. He's hopped up on the adrenaline, firing on all cylinders. Then he goes into the dugout and does what every pitcher does.
He thinks. He sweats, he settles in... and so do the hitters.
The man has something wierd going on. He is literally (as Schmenkman pointed out last week) a different pitcher from the first 25 pitches. He tires easily, loses control, but in those first 25 pills?
He's a golden god. He's unhittable, and I think the Phillies know this. And that excites me. Deep in my soul tingly excitement.
I'm wrong about a lot of things, but if I'm wrong about Ethan Martin, if, barring injury he isn't setting up the 8th inning by June, or maybe even closing, I'll parade down broad street in nothing but a Chipper Jones jersey. Headcases make the best relievers anyway, right?
None of this is fact. None of this matters. For all I know I'm simply trying to justify trading Shane Victorino last season, by pining my bullpen hopes on a guy with an ERA over 6.
But for me, Ethan Martin is special. Darin Ruf is important.
So are Jake Diekman, and BJ Rosenberg, and Cody Asche, and Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis...
Until Ruben goes and trades half of them in a few months, or I start to sink my teeth into the offseason, and dream about this years Josh Hamilton, or BJ Upton, or any of the other free agents that wouldn't have made a shits bit of difference this year, but certainly would have pigeonholed the finances next year.
But for the next three weeks Ethan Martin and Darin Ruf are what are getting me through this. I encourage you all to find your own Ethan Martin, your own Darin Ruf.
Ya gotta believe.