Already not facing lefties, veteran 1B could face fewer righties with rookie producing
By Cody Stavenhagen
CHICAGO -- As the Phillies packed their bags and headed out of Wrigley Field on Sunday after a 7-2 loss sealed a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs, struggling first baseman Ryan Howard faced questions about his future in the lineup.
Howard, 36, is hitting .154, the signs of age taking their toll. Meanwhile, recent callup Tommy Joseph is hitting .286 through his first 35 Major League at-bats. Joseph's ninth-inning home run Sunday was his third, and he has RBIs in four of his past five games.
Sitting the left-handed Howard against left-handed pitchers is not a new concept. But might he begin sitting against righties, too?
"I haven't spoken to the manager about that," Howard said. "So he'd be the person to talk to. He hasn't come to me and told me anything about it, so I don't know anything about it."
Manager Pete Mackanin didn't give a plan regarding how the Phillies will handle their big-money cornerstone (Howard's contract expires at the end of the season, but he is due more than $25 million this year), but Mackanin did offer this:
"We'll just talk about it," he said. "We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him, and I can't let him stagnate on the bench like [Darin Ruf] ended up doing, so he's going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don't know when the next time we're going to face a left-handed [pitcher] is, but I'm going to use him a little more often than I did with Ruf."
What does Howard think of that?
"I haven't heard anything about sitting more against righties. I haven't been called in the office and talked to," he said.
Howard sat Friday against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester as expected (Howard is 2-for-15 this season against lefties) and went 0-for-4 Saturday against right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Sunday, Joseph was the man at first base against right-hander John Lackey.
Was Howard surprised?
"I guess," he said. "I show up, if my name's in the lineup or if it's not. I don't make the lineup. The manager makes the lineup. I just show up."
If Howard continues to ride the bench against right-handers, how will his swing hold up?
"I don't know," Mackanin said. "We'll just have to see."
And if he is benched and that swing doesn't hold up, what will happen to his mindset?
"I don't know," Mackanin said. "I don't know how he feels. I'm pretty sure we'll talk to him and we'll see where we go from there."
If there's anything certain, it seems Joseph will continue to play, regardless of what that means for Howard and his legacy in Philadelphia.
"The important thing is we brought Joseph up here to get a look at him," Mackanin said. "If he sits on the bench for a week or 10 days and we don't get a look at him, what's the point of bringing him up?"
Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.