Ruffin, once bright spot of Phillies pitching staff, fades into minors

May 26, 1991|By Ted Silary | Ted Silary,Knight-Ridder News Service

MOOSIC, PA. L LHC BB — MOOSIC, Pa. -- Only because he had been asked to, Bruce Ruffin gave thought to life after baseball.

After a short pause, highlighted by the squinting of his eyes and the rubbing of his chin, Ruffin looked lost. "I haven't even started thinking about it," he said.

How about becoming a pitching coach?

"Someday, maybe," Ruffin said, with a smile. "Lord knows, I've had enough instruction. I know what needs to be done out there. Whether or not I can do it, I should be able to teach it."

Bruce Ruffin, veteran major leaguer, does his pitching these days for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple A affiliate in northeastern Pennsylvania. Ruffin would never say it's no fun being here -- after all, he does draw a check for his services -- but this is not a recommended experience.

Ruffin received word of his demotion April 3, after allowing 17 hits and 10 walks in 11 2/3 spring training innings. His ERA (9.26) was also a big factor.

Ruffin's status in the Phillies' organization is questionable. This is the second time in three seasons that management has been exasperated enough with the 27-year-old left-hander to ship him to Triple A.

But if Ruffin is reeling, he's hiding it well.

"I still think the Phillies are interested in me," he said. "[General manager] Lee Thomas has said he'd like to see me be successful. He's confident that I will. When I get back, he hopes it will be with the Phillies.

"It's frustrating mentally to be here. But I try to stay positive. Right now, they're giving me the opportunity to pitch every five days. If I can put up some numbers, it's going to make their decision more difficult. If I pitch bad here, I don't deserve to go back to the big leagues. I know that."

Ruffin has made nine starts with the Red Barons. His statistics -- a 4-4 record, 5.06 ERA, 60 hits in 53 1/3 innings, 33 walks and 27 strikeouts -- aren't impressive, but he gave up just one run on five hits in seven innings against Richmond Tuesday and pitched a five-hit complete game Thursday against Tidewater.

"I feel good about the way I'm throwing," Ruffin said. "The numbers aren't what I want them to be, or what I expected them to be, though.

"It seems like one inning really hurts me. I have four, five or six good ones, then one bad one that's really bad. It's concentration, maybe. I'll still have good stuff, but I'll lack the concentration to keep making good pitches. Things will go wrong, and I'll start pressing. I'll try to throw a harder fastball, a better breaking ball. It's the nature of the game, I guess."

zTC In 1986, fresh from Double A Reading, Ruffin made 21 starts for the Phillies and went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA and six complete games.

But from 1987 through 1990, Ruffin went 29-47 with a 4.63 ERA.

"I can remember being very focused [in 1986]," Ruffin said. "I had to be, going from Double A, where there were maybe 500 to 600 people, to pitching in front of 40,000 in my first two starts. You have to see the mitt and nothing else. I blocked out the hitters, blocked out the fans, blocked out the noise.

"That's what I remember most. That's what I have to get back to."

Did Ruffin have trouble believing his success?

"I was a little surprised, maybe," he said. "They [batters] hadn't seen me. They didn't know what my ball did. I hadn't seen them. I wasn't pitching to their weaknesses. I was pitching to my strengths."

Bill Dancy, the Red Barons manager, is happy with Ruffin, both as a pitcher and as a man.

"He's throwing well. He's close to being Bruce Ruffin," Dancy said. "He has the slider with the good touch, the biting slider Bruce Ruffin used to have. And, when he stays within himself, his fastball really sinks. His numbers are partly my fault. I don't have the middle relief the big club does, so sometimes I've had to stretch Bruce out an inning or two more than I'd like.

"In one game, he gave up 13 hits. I couldn't count more than four that were hit hard. Jam jobs just over the infield. End-of-the-bat jobs. Swinging bunts. If you weren't here to see it, you'd think he had nothing. Well, I put that in my report [to the minor-league department]. He pitched well. He was breaking bats. I put it all in my reports, believe me. If a guy gives up four hits but they're all rockets, I say that."

Ruffin is "a fine example," Dancy said. "He'd rather not be here, of course, but he goes about his work in a professional manner. The other guys see that."

Said Ruffin: "I have to string together two, three or four good outings. If I do that, people will look at me."

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