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PHI@WSH: Ruf takes Gorzelanny deep with a solo homer

WASHINGTON -- General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said a couple of times recently how the Phillies need to be smart this offseason.

Sometimes getting the biggest name isn't the best option.

"There are some guys who have some track records, but what guarantee do we have that some of the guys that we may sign for a significant amount of money are any better than the players we have in this clubhouse?" Amaro said before Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park.

In other words, are such prospective free agents as B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn, who are going to cost millions in multiyear deals, the best way to spend their money when they might have somebody in the organization who could be better for tens of millions of dollars less over the next five or six years?

And even if some of those free agents are better, is it a wise investment? The last thing the Phillies need is a big contract with a player they hope might give them a few good years.

This is where Darin Ruf enters the conversation.

Ruf has started just eight games in his big league career, so it would be foolhardy to pronounce him a bona fide everyday player. But he produced some unbelievable numbers in Double-A Reading this season and has been nothing short of impressive with the bat in his very brief stint with the Phillies this month.

He hit two home runs on Tuesday: a solo home run to left field in the fourth inning against Nationals left-hander Tom Gorzelanny and a solo home run to left in the eighth against right-hander Tyler Clippard. He also has driven in the only seven runs the Phillies have scored in their last three games against the Nationals.

"The level of play is better up here," Ruf said. "The pitchers throw a lot more strikes. They have more command. You're in there with an idea of, 'I can swing at every pitch and be OK, almost.' It's nice to have that kind of philosophy and be a little more aggressive."

Ruf has hit safely in each of his eight starts. He is hitting .355 with two doubles, one triple, three home runs and nine RBIs in 11 games.

The front office and coaching staff have noticed.

So should some of his teammates.

"I remember, if I saw somebody hit that way, I knew it affected me -- 'I better pick it up,' and things like that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "This is a dog-eat-dog game. A lot of guys don't understand that. The way baseball is getting, I don't think they understand that. If somebody is hungry and mean, they can come in and take your job in a New York minute."

Ruf certainly has made a strong case that the Phillies should give him a serious look in Spring Training. He is hitting the ball hard, showing an ability to work a count and looking fearless when hitting with two strikes.

The Phillies desperately need a hitter like that, especially one who can hit with power from the right side of the plate.

Plus, he's cheap.

"He's interesting, because he does have a good swing," Manuel said. "He has a quick bat. He's hit 41 homers this year. And .300 in the Minor Leagues. How about that? Who else does that? That gets your attention. That's not 10 or 12 home runs, 30 or 40 RBIs. That's big hitting."

Ruf will play winter ball after the regular season ends, and there he will play in the outfield, a new position for him. If he shows some aptitude there -- Manuel thinks Ruf can be a Raul Ibanez-type outfielder, which would be good if he hits -- it would not be the craziest thing in the world to give him a chance to play at least on a semi-regular basis in 2013.

"Coming into the final stretch, knowing that I was going to play a little bit, I was trying to put myself in a spot where I can compete next year in Spring Training," he said. "If not a starting job, just a spot on the team. That's kind of how I've approached this little stretch here."

Of course, Spring Training is four and a half months away. Many things can change before then, but in a year that will end in disappointment in Philadelphia, Ruf's potential is something to get excited about.

"He's hit his way into getting a look," Manuel said. "A bigger look. I like him."

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