With Darin Ruf coming off the DL, the Phillies could soon be at full strength. But "full strength" could insinuate that with all of their players, the Phillies are a strong team, which, for a few fleeting moments when the offense and pitching lined up, they sort of were?
No, even then, "strong" is not the word to describe a team pulling its wins out of trusting A.J. Burnett to make a few runs stand up, sifting its way through another punchless early season of Ben Revere leading off, or customarily bringing Jake Diekman into the fifth or sixth inning.
It may be even sadder when the Phillies have all of their players, and the claim that they "don’t even have [name of player automatically tasked with saving the season] back yet!" will expire. Not being there at the beginning doesn’t necessarily make a player an "improvement." Sometimes, it just makes them "late."
So, with the obnoxious optimism out of the way, here’s who is left to come back and save the Phillies:
Ethan Martin (15-day DL): A bullpen arm! That is exciting, if only because we don’t know how effective or ineffective Martin will be, unlike with the confirmed ineffective reliever he could be replacing.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (60-day DL): Hmm.
Darin Ruf: See below.
And that’s it. On the minors side, the Phillies seem at least curious about upgrading the bullpen, with Ken Giles (who struck out 29 of the 57 hitters he faced in the Eastern League this year) and Kyle Simon (who did not do that) promoted to Lehigh Valley.
One thing you can say about these 2014 Phillies: for an injury-prone crew, they’ve stayed healthy. That aging core the Phillies touted as an imporant part of their plan to contend again has stayed, for the most part, on the field.
Howard, Rollins, Utley and Ruiz have a combined .285 BA, but that’s not really fair, because if you take Chase Utley's numbers out, they're hitting .265. So to not be able to claim that they're recovering from something horrible happening to their bodies is actually a mite disheartening, as this appears to be just how they are now (Though Ryan Howard will be in recovery from that ripped Achilles for the rest of his life, whenever he wants to move faster than a brisk walk).
Offensively, other than what the Phillies already have, there’s Ruf. Ruf apparently admitted to having "serious rust," and has singled five times in 22 rehab at-bats. None of this is supposed to blow your mind; the guy has spent the last month trying extra hard not to rattle his rib cage. In the grand scheme of physical movement, that’s a few steps behind "playing baseball professionally."
It could be a tick before we see him on a bench or in a lineup, and even then, his role is an ambiguous one. There’s no room to play first base every day, and they just finished going 1-8 in a string of AL games in which a power-hitting DH could have been useful.
The Phillies seem convinced that if they stick him in the outfield, he’ll eventually just be an outfielder. Ruf would have to be swinging a pretty hot bat to be worth having in a lineup in exchange for the subtraction of defense he would bring to an already bottom-five NL outfield.
As always, we can't say exactly what the near future will produce, but so far, this is how things stand with the players the team planned to have on the field, actually on the field:
The Phillies aren't a guy or two away from improving, anyway. Outside of Cole Hamels, they've been healthy, but are almost literally just as bad as the 2013 Phillies, whose excuse was that they were struggling with injuries. A first baseman in the outfield recovering from a rib cage injury is not likely to improve matters.