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Philadelphia Phillies: As Ryan Howard's Fade Continues, Darin Ruf Must Play Now

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Philadelphia Phillies: As Ryan Howard's Fade Continues, Darin Ruf Must Play Now
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
These are dark days for the once-fearsome slugger.

Ryan Howard is day-to-day with inflammation in his left knee, per Ryan Lawrence of Philadelphia's Daily News.

That isn't all. The magnetic resonance imaging test of Howard's knee identified "changes" in his meniscus.

Since my training is in law and not medicine, maybe it would be best to hear it from Phillies' trainer Scott Sheridan: "He’s got some changes in his meniscus and his knee. And he’s also got some inflammation in the knee that concerns us."

Maybe Howard will be back in a few days. Maybe he will need a disabled list stint.

Either way, it does not really matter. Ryan Howard is a player with egregiously diminishing skills who now cannot much stay on the field.

And Howard's at-bats against decent left-handed pitching are the stuff of nightmares. As of this writing, Howard's on-base percentage against lefties is .213.

At this point in his career, Howard would be a solid platoon player. And that's about it.

If the Phillies could commit to playing Howard only against right-handed pitching, the production the Phillies would get from a half season from Howard and the rest from the likes of John Mayberry Jr. and Michael Young might equate to the output of a decent full-time first baseman.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
With Carlos Ruiz on the DL and Howard maybe headed there, you might see Kratz and Ruf ride again soon.

Or maybe Darin Ruf should be splitting time with Howard at first base. More on Ruf in a minute.

It all sounds crazy, of course, because of Howard's contract.

The common refrain any time the idea of sitting Howard crops up is that the Phillies owe Howard too much money.

Here's the thing, though: One thing should have nothing to do with the other where that issue is concerned.

Howard is going to get the whole of his $20 million this year and $25 million in each of the next three seasons no matter what his playing status is.

Playing Howard only because of the money he is making, then, is quite possibly sacrificing enhanced chances to win future games because of a past blunder.

Not only does that decision-making run counter to the basic ethic of professional sports, which is to win above all else, but it sends the absolute wrong message to the other 24 guys on the team who might have a better chance to win if Howard sits against left-handed pitching.

Because Howard got off to a decent start in 2013, and because Darin Ruf's season began poorly at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Ruf fell off most Phillies fans' radar after he was the darling of spring training.

And it is not like Ruf is now the second coming of Miguel Cabrera at Lehigh Valley now.

But Ruf's batting average is up to .267, and he has hit five home runs in 40 games.

In limited major league action last season, Ruf hit three home runs in 12 games.

Maybe Ruf cannot hit right-handed pitching well enough to keep a job at the major league level. That's okay, because Howard can still do that just fine.

Ruf can almost certainly hit left-handed pitching at a better clip than .196.

If the Phillies are serious about trying to steal a playoff spot this season, the first order of business must be the beginning of cutting their losses with Ryan Howard.

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