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Defending Mackanin's use of Darin Ruf

Manager Pete Mackanin is taking unwarranted heat for removing Ryan Howard during a key spot in Monday's home opener.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Let me say this first, just to get it out of the way.

I like Darin Ruf, probably more than most. He's one of the few bats on the 25-man roster with any semblance of power, and throughout his career has been a very good hitter against left-handed pitchers.

But we all know his many weaknesses. He's pretty bad against right-handers. He's not terribly good defensively (although he is better than Ryan Howard most days). And he can only play one position, first base.

However, here he is, lo these many years later, still on the 25-man roster. He's still a Philadelphia Phillie and, as such, is engaged in a straight platoon with Howard at first base.

Ryan, you take care of the right-handers. Darin, you're on the lefties.

Seems pretty simple, and in the Phils' hope opening 4-3 loss to the Padres on Monday, the first tough platoon call of Pete Mackanin's managerial career reared its head.

Bottom of the 6th. Bases loaded. Nobody out. Ryan Howard coming to the plate against right-hander Andrew Cashner. The entire stadium rose, in Howard's final home opener with the Phillies. Here was an opportunity for The Big Piece, who had been swinging the bat well on this day, to be the hero and help the Phils overcome what was, at the time, a 3-2 deficit.

But then the Padres pulled their starter and brought in the lefty. So, Pete Mackanin did what everyone has been pining for the Phillies to do for a long time. He pulled Ryan Howard in favor of Darin Ruf.

Just as a reminder, amongst players with at least 100 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers last year, Howard had the lowest batting average (.130) and OPS (.418) in the Majors, while Ruf had the second-highest batting average (.371) and OPS (1.107).

So Mackanin called on Ruf to pinch hit. Of course, as Justin Klugh so ably explained, we all know what happened next. Ruf hit a high pop up to shallow left field that the third base umpire determined was an infield fly rule and ruled Ruf out. However, the ball dropped, Cesar Hernandez scored, and Odubel Herrera was tagged out at third trying to advance.

It turned out to be a run-scoring double play. The game was tied, but after a Cameron Rupp strikeout, it became clear an opportunity had been wasted.

But for those complaining that the sixth inning was too soon to pull Howard, consider that this was the best opportunity the Phillies were going to get to score all day. We all know Howard's numbers against left-handers, and if he had grounded into a double play, struck out, or popped up, everyone would be raking Mackanin over the coals right now.

So no, the sixth inning wasn't too early to pull Howard. In fact, it was exactly what everyone has been calling on Phillies managers to do for four years now.

But we're not done with Ruf yet. Certainly, his defense in the seventh inning allowed the Padres to tie the game, more the ground ball that got past him for a lead-off double than the wide throw to first that pulled him off the bag, rendering him unable to reach the bag before the runner got there.

If you want to blame Ruf for not being able to get back on the bag, be my guest. I'm not. But there's no doubt his defense contributed to the Padres re-taking the lead, 4-3 in that inning.

And then, there was the bottom of the ninth. As San Diego brought in their closer, right-hander Fernando Rodney, Ruf was scheduled to hit second in the inning. Maikel Franco led off with a line drive single to right, bringing up Ruf as the potential tying run at the plate.

As a reminder, Ruf is not very good against right-handed pitching. So more criticism was leveled against Mackanin, claiming he should have pulled the potential home threat out in place of Andres Blanco.

Here is how the two men have fared in their careers against right-handers.

Player PA HR OPS
Andres Blanco 672 7 0.677
Darin Ruf 460 16 0.657

And to be fair to Blanco, who had a monster season off the bench for the Phillies last season, here are their number last year.

Player PA HR OPS
Andres Blanco 166 4 0.798
Darin Ruf 183 4 0.483

If you believe that Blanco re-made himself into a completely different player last year, and that the Blanco you got in 2015 is the one you'll get in 2016, then yes, Blanco was probably the better choice. But if you look at the longer sample size, Ruf is the slightly better choice, and the clear one if you're looking for a long ball.

Of course, the Phils didn't need a homer in that spot. A well-placed single or double would have helped. But consider who was following the fifth spot in the batting order and tell me how good you felt about the Phils stringing together a rally of singles and doubles versus Ruf hitting one out.

Cameron Rupp was up after Ruf, followed by Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos. Rupp is hitting .250 on the young season, while Hunter is batting .095 and Bourjous .190.

The bottom line here is that there is no slam dunk alternative move Mackanin should have made. No, the results did not turn out the way anyone wanted after Ruf hit into a standard 6-4-3 double play. But the process was correct.

Of course, emotions were high because the crowd wanted to see Howard be the hero. We all did. And when Ruf blew that moment, and then blew a defensive chance the following inning, no one was in the mood to see him get another opportunity in the ninth.

But if you don't think Ruf should have been used in either of those spots, then you don't think he should be on this team. And, given the state of the 25-man roster, I wholeheartedly disagree.

Mackanin made the correct calls, the ones we've been calling for him to make. They just backfired.

That's just baseball.