SAN FRANCISCO — During the first live batting practices of summer workouts, pitchers appear to be “ahead” of hitters at Oracle Park.
It’s never a surprise when hitters don’t have their timing down and are still adjusting their swing mechanics after a long layoff, but it should be taken as a good sign for the Giants and manager Gabe Kapler that slugger Darin Ruf feels he has plenty of catching up to do.
Despite being slightly out of his comfort zone at the plate, Ruf launched a pair of doubles –one to right field and another to left field– during live batting practice at China Basin Thursday.
Ruf, who last appeared in the majors in 2016 with the Phillies, said the doubles in San Francisco are nothing new.
“My claim to fame here is hitting a double in Triples Alley off of (Madison) Bumgarner back in the day,” Ruf said. “I didn’t realize that triples were cool and I need to stretch it out next time.”
The Giants are thrilled to have Ruf, who will be 34 on July 28, in camp after he torched Cactus League pitchers during spring training and appeared to be a lock for the Opening Day roster.
After spending the last three seasons making his mark as one of the top hitters in the Korean Baseball League, the Nebraska native committed to returning to the United States in the offseason and signed a minor league deal with the Giants.
Ruf said Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi convinced his agent San Francisco should be his preferred destination because the club needed another right-handed power presence in a National League West division loaded with left-handed starting pitchers.
“Once (the Giants) were able to make that offer, it was great to know that I had the opportunity to come back here,” Ruf said. “It was appealing because I know the divisions, I know there’s a lot of lefties, I knew I would possibly be able to carve out a role so I was excited about that.”
Ruf hit a combined 86 home runs and posted a .968 OPS over three seasons with the Samsung Lions in the Korean Baseball League, but wanted to pursue an opportunity to return to the majors before he hit the final stages of his career.
The power-hitting right-hander isn’t a natural fit at any one defensive position, but the Giants fell in love with his approach at the plate during spring training and used him at first base and in the corner outfield spots.
“What I find really interesting is that Darin Ruf was able to pick up right where he left off during our regular spring training,” Kapler said after Ruf’s workout Thursday.
Major League Baseball’s decision to bring the designated hitter to the National League in 2020 only helps Ruf’s chances to contribute this season, so there’s more reason for the Giants to be excited about his addition.
Despite his desire to prove himself again at the major league level, the former Phillies first baseman almost didn’t return to Oracle Park for summer workouts.
During the layoff period spurred by the pandemic, Ruf considered opportunities overseas and admitted Thursday he and the Giants explored a way for him to play in Japan when the Nippon Professional Baseball league restarted.
“I think everyone handled it the best way they could,” Ruf said. “I respect the Giants’ position to want to hold onto me knowing that I could possibly help them at the season get off and I think they could respect my point of view that I could go play baseball in this uncertain time and I just wanted to have a little bit of certainty in my life for my family. I think everyone handled it very professionally and with as much respect as we could through the tough times.”
Ruf said he didn’t think it was bittersweet to watch the Korean Baseball League and Nippon Professional Baseball return before Major League Baseball because he’s energized by the opportunity to help the Giants and says the successful return to play of those leagues gives him reason to be optimistic.
With time running low and his swinging looking strong, Ruf is simply happy to be back on a baseball field.
“I’m probably closer toward the end of my career so I definitely wanted to play at some point this year and not have this be the end and luckily we were able to try to get a season going here,” Ruf said. “I think if things keep moving this way we will and to hopefully help the Giants.”