Darin Ruf, who had been mainly a designated hitter at the time of the trade, began receiving regular playing time at first base and promptly went on a hitting tear, going 14-for-29 with four homers and eight RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak in early August.
The former Missouri Valley Conference MVP out of Creighton (Neb.) has his average at .309 and has shown increased power of late -- 11 of his 15 homers have come since the All-Star break.
"I love playing defense, and it's great to be at first base," Ruf said. "But maybe I was a little fresher for the last couple of months of the season because I wasn't out there for nine innings in the field every game."
Ruf, who turned 25 on July 28, attributes most of his second-half breakout, though, to recommitting to a more aggressive approach at the plate. The right-handed hitter had set as a goal before the season to swing early in the count on pitches in the strike zone. But he too often had been taking strikes and falling behind in the count. A meeting during the break got him to refocus.
"I wasn't being as aggressive as I should have been," said Ruf, a 20th-round pick by the Phillies in the 2009 Draft. "I needed to decide for myself what pitches to try to hit and not let the pitcher dictate."
Now Ruf is dictating. His 37 doubles lead the league, and he ranks among the top 10 in average, slugging (.501), OPS (.888) and RBIs (72). His on-base percentage is .387 with 49 walks to 88 strikeouts.
Ruf was strictly a first baseman at Creighton, where he graduated with a 3.52 GPA in finance in addition to ranking second all-time in RBIs for the Bluejays. But he showed his versatility with Clearwater, playing some left field and third base prior to Singleton's departure.
Ruf also served as an emergency pitcher in the Threshers' marathon 23-inning game at Jupiter on May 23. The right-hander worked the 21st and 22nd innings, keeping the score tied while allowing a hit and a walk to go with a strikeout.
"It was fun," said Ruf, who had last pitched in high school. "But I think the hitters were exhausted. I know I was. It was a long, long game."
So long that Ruf got 10 at-bats. He was 2-for-9 with a double and a walk.
He hit .307 and .290 in his first two seasons after signing with the Phillies but hadn't been able to match that early on in 2010. Then came the second half and the Singleton trade. Ruf was ready.
"You always want to have a good second half and finish the season strong," said the Nebraska native.
Ruf is doing just that. He already has career highs in doubles, homers and RBIs. Now if he could just get his last name spelled correctly more often.
"There is just one 'F' not two," he said. "It gets messed up a lot."
New batting leader: After Juan Lagares of St. Lucie moved up to Double-A, all it took for Bradenton's Ramon Cabrera to take over the top spot in the league batting race was enough plate appearances to qualify. The switch-hitting catcher and DH is hitting .347, including a .400 mark against left-handed pitchers. Cabrera has a .369 average in the second half and is fifth in the league with a .413 on-base percentage.
Bonding experience: St. Lucie teammates Cory Vaughn and Rylan Sandoval are both diabetics. "We played together last year [with Brooklyn], and it was the first time I'd every played with someone who was also diabetic," Sandoval told the Port St. Lucie Tribune. "I take injections whereas he does the insulin pump. We live together, so if I run out of supplies, hopefully he's got something on him."
Lyons roars as starter: Left-hander Tyler Lyons, who made his first 21 appearances out of the bullpen with mixed results for Palm Beach, won six straight as a starter after losing his first decision and had a 3.27 ERA in his new role through 10 games. The ninth-round pick in the 2010 Draft by St. Louis followed up a seven-inning no-hitter against Fort Myers with back-to-back one-run outings in which he gave up nine hits over 16 innings.