Darin Ruf felt he had a lot to be thankful for in a year that went unlike any other. His family welcomed a daughter last March, and his hot bat that month carried over to July, when he easily nailed down a spot on the Giants opening day roster. In his return from South Korea, Ruf posted a .887 OPS and became a trusted option for Gabe Kapler.
There was a lot to celebrate, including a very simple fact. Ruf, who signed with the Giants last winter as a non-roster invitee, was on the team the entire 2020 season.
"It was the first season that I didn't get fired at any point or sent down," he said recently, laughing. "And that's always a positive."
The 34-year-old took a chance when he returned to a big league camp after three successful seasons in the KBO, and it continues to pay off. Even knowing the universal DH was likely going away, the Giants kept the arbitration-eligible Ruf in the offseason, agreeing to a $1.275 million deal in December.
While Ruf's overall numbers this spring don't stand out, Kapler has talked repeatedly of the quality of his at-bats and contact. He again looks headed for a role as one of Kapler's top bench options, along with time in left field and first base, where Brandon Belt might miss the start of the season. Ruf has done drills at both positions this spring, and in year two with the slugging right-handed hitter, Kapler said he's seeing more of a comfort level.
"I think the comfort shows up in the cage but also in conversations with his teammates and coaches," Kapler said. "I think we're seeing it around the bag at first base, and in his work in the outfield."
Kapler envisions Ruf having a similar role to 2020, when he got 100 plate appearances and made 22 appearances in left field. Ruf hit both righties (.877 OPS) and lefties (.890) last year, giving Kapler a platoon piece who wasn't overmatched when the opposing team changed pitchers. It was common to see Ruf and Alex Dickerson both play left in the same game, and Ruf said it's a role he was comfortable with last year.
"I feel I had a very defined role and played well in that role," he said.
The Giants have fewer avenues to at-bats for players like Ruf and Wilmer Flores without a DH, but they also now have 162 games to get through, and they're counting on the depth of their lineup to keep them afloat. They view Ruf as a big part of that, and he was thrilled to get another opportunity with the Giants after a strange year that ended up rejuvenating his career.
"There are so many things to be thankful for," he said. "To have the opportunity to play baseball every day in a season that was different than any other, but to also contribute to a team more than I ever have at the major league level, was very satisfying."