Howard's homer soars to 'rarefied air'

First baseman now tied with Gaetti on all-time list -- and one away from DiMaggio

Howard's homer soars to 'rarefied air'

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard wasn't supposed to be in the Phillies' lineup for Thursday afternoon's 3-0 win over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park.

But because the other half of Philadelphia first-base platoon, Darin Ruf, is still hampered with a rotator cuff contusion, Howard found himself penciled into the No. 4 hole in Philadelphia's lineup -- even against Padres left-hander Drew Pomeranz.

The veteran first baseman took full advantage of an opportunity to prove he can slug against more than righties. Howard made hard contact each of his chances against Pomeranz, registering exit velocities of 110, 96 and 103 mph in his three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies' first two runs with a home run and a sacrifice fly.

Howard's sacrifice fly

"It's very encouraging," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He looks pretty good at the plate right now."

The quality at-bats were made even more impressive by the left-hander on the mound. Pomeranz isn't Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale, but his splits against left-handed hitters are impressive.

Entering Thursday's contest, lefties had hit .175 against Pomeranz in his career, with a .493 OPS. Before Howard's home run, only five left-handers had homered against him in 312 plate appearances.

Howard made it clear at the beginning of Spring Training that he was not a fan of the platoon. But by the end of March, he had come to terms with his role.

"All you can do is go up there and try to have good at-bats," Howard said after Thursday's game. "For me, it's just about trying to take advantage of the opportunities I get."

He doesn't expect Mackanin to put too much weight in one or two strong performances against southpaws, and Mackanin doesn't plan to.

Mackanin said postgame that Ruf, who was able to swing the bat pregame, was available to pinch-hit and will start the next game against a left-handed starter.

Howard's 360th career home run tied Gary Gaetti for 82nd on the all-time list. One more will tie Joe DiMaggio.

"I had no clue," Howard said. "The names that are coming up, it's kind of a rarefied air. It's an ultimate honor to even be put in the same category as those guys."

As for active players? Only seven have more home runs than Howard. Carlos Beltran is closest, with 394, while Alex Rodriguez's 688 leads the pack.

Evan Webeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.