Struggling Howard benched for two days

Struggling Howard benched for two days

June 28, 2013, 9:00 pm
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Ryan Howard is hitting .173 with 38 strikeouts against lefties this season. (AP)

LOS ANGELES – A year and a half into his five-year, $125 million contract, Ryan Howard has been benched.

Howard, mired in an 0-for-16 slump, was held out of the Phillies' lineup Friday night.

One game is a day off.

More than one is a benching.

Manager Charlie Manuel said Howard would also sit out Saturday night’s game. The Dodgers are using left-handed pitchers in both games and Howard is hitting just .173 (13 for 75) with a .222 on-base percentage, a .293 slugging percentage and 38 strikeouts against lefties.

The benching comes one day after Howard killed a rally by grounding into a double play on a down-and-away 3-0 pitch in a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers. Later in the game, he made a defensive miscue that contributed to the Dodgers' scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh.

After the game, Howard took full responsibility for the loss in an interview with reporters (see story).

Manuel informed Howard of the benching in a Friday meeting that was also attended by hitting coaches Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner.

Manuel said Howard’s benching was not punitive. It is designed to be constructive.

“They have two left-handers going in a row,” Manuel said. “Ryan will sit tomorrow, too. He’ll do hitting drills. I want to give him some time to clear his head. Right now he looks uncomfortable and he’s not seeing the ball good. We want him feeling better against left-handers.”

Manuel said Howard would return to the lineup Sunday against Dodgers right-hander Stephen Fife.

Manuel said Howard understood the reasoning for the benching.

“He’s fine with it,” Manuel said.

Howard declined comment on the matter.

“I got nothing today,” he said.

Howard, 33, is hitting .268 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 74 games this season. He has been plagued by problems with his left leg for over a year. He missed the first half of last season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and this season is playing with a cartilage problem in his left knee that he recently said causes him pain every day. The plan for now remains to play through the issue unless it becomes debilitating.

“His average is OK,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “He’s struggled at times. He’s streaky, but not as streaky on the positive side as he typically is. He could carry a team at times and he hasn’t done that yet. He hasn’t performed to his capabilities.

“He’s a better player than he’s showed this year. I think his injuries have taken a toll on him. How much it has affected him mentally, I don’t know. It may be affecting him mentally a little bit.”

Howard has 3½ seasons to go on a huge five-year, $125 million contract. Amaro recently told CSNPhilly.com that he did not regret giving Howard that deal. The GM believes Howard can still be a top run producer.

Why?

“His track record, more than anything else,” Amaro said. “More than anything else, he has to get to the point where he is healthy again. Health means something to these guys mentally. It’s hard to play at 100 percent when you’re not 100 percent. He can still be a very productive player. It’s a matter of getting him back to 100 percent. He needs to get his mojo back. One works with the other.”

John Mayberry Jr. started at first base in Howard’s place Friday night.