Entering this spring, Ruf endured yet another offseason of Howard trade talk, which Ruf admits has become quite the broken record.
"We've been hearing those rumors for like two to three years now, and nothing has happened," Ruf said.
Ruf insists the obvious: both players want to be starters, but the relationship off the field remains a friendly one.
"We have a great relationship," Ruf said. "We try to help each other all the time, on the field and off the field. We get together as much as possible, get dinners, lunches."
Ruf is certainly the yin to Howard's yang. While Howard has struggled against lefties, Ruf has thrived. His OPS vs. lefties was an eye-opening 1.107 last season, which would have tied Nelson Cruz for the Major League lead if Ruf had enough at-bats. Playing strictly against lefties is a role he has mastered.
"I might have the coach throw lefty and work on a little bit more fast-slow things in the cage," Ruf said. "It's a point of emphasis for me."
This spring, Ruf is poised to break out of his comfort zone and face more righties, against whom his OPS was .483 last year, compared to Howard's .802.
"Yeah I hope so," Ruf said. "I'm going to have to earn those and show I can regularly throw quality at-bats out there. You have more of a comfort level the more years you do it. [It's my] fourth big league Spring Training now. I know how it works."
He wants to take playing time away from Howard, a player Ruf has great respect for on the field and the way the veteran has carried himself off of it.
"I just try to watch him the way he goes about his work habits," Ruf said. "If there are things I can pick up, implement in the kind of person I am, the way I treat my fellow teammates, coaches, I think it will lead to a long career."
It's a career at a crossroads this season, where for Ruf, the time is now.
Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.