Pittsburgh Pirates' Alen Hanson (59) dives back ahead of the throw to Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Darin Ruf during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Monday, March 7, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. Looking on is umpire Bill Welke. (AP Photo
Chris O'Meara
March 10, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Darin Ruf is showing he's ready to be more than a role player.

Ruf has three homers in Philadelphia's past two games, including a pair against Baltimore on Wednesday. The 29-year-old slugger is expected to platoon with Ryan Howard at first base, but he'll earn more playing time if he keeps smashing baseballs.

''It's everyone's goal to become an everyday player in the majors,'' Ruf said. ''You have to earn that right and prove yourself.''

Ruf is a career .300 hitter with 16 homers and 42 RBIs in 243 at-bats against left-handers. He has a .946 OPS against them in four seasons, including 1.107 last year. Hitting right-handers has been Ruf's problem, however. He has a .212 average with 16 homers and 45 RBIs against them in 411 career at-bats.

So, Ruf's two homers off Orioles righties Yovani Gallardo and Vance Worley were encouraging.

''I just love to be out there playing and hitting and trying to help my team win whether that's facing lefties or righties or whoever,'' he said. ''I try to embrace my role and do as well in it as I can.''

Ruf burst on the scene in 2012 when he started hitting bombs with regularity at Double-A Reading, earning the nickname ''Babe.'' He smacked 38 homers, including 20 in August that year. He hit three more in 33 at-bats with the Phillies in September, and tore up the Venezuelan League in winter ball. His 38 homers at Reading broke Howard's former club record.

The Phillies tried Ruf in left field the following spring because Howard and his big contract blocked his path at first base. But Ruf didn't make the most of the opportunity and was a defensive liability.

With Howard declining - .226 average and .704 OPS over the past two years - and in the final year of his contract, the rebuilding Phillies are more likely to give Ruf a chance to play more first base this season.

''He's in a pretty good groove right now,'' bench coach Larry Bowa said. ''He's swinging with confidence and playing good defense.''

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ruf looks stronger this spring, though he said he didn't focus too much on weight training in the offseason. Instead, he worked with former Red Sox outfielder Dwayne Hosey on his hitting in Omaha, Nebraska.

''I spent a lot of time working on refining an approach at the plate so when I showed up it would be something I stick with for a while,'' Ruf said. ''I worked on incorporating my lower half more and being balanced when I hit and when I land with my stride. That way, if it's a heater, I'm on time with it and if it's a breaking ball, I can stay on my legs and react and remain stable and see it.''

Ruf is 6 for 21 with three homers, one double and a team-high eight RBIs so far. He knows the only stats that count start next month.

''You want to swing it well and earn a role and spot on the team, but it's what you do from April to October that really matters,'' Ruf said.

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