Phillies Notes: Howard, Brown looking to salvage season

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Phillies Notes: Howard, Brown looking to salvage season

As the Phillies look to the final two months of the season, manager Ryne Sandberg says he will attempt to get as much playing time for a bunch of his players.

In fact, Sandberg says there is still plenty of time for players -- namely Ryan Howard and Dom Brown -- to salvage their subpar seasons.

Howard, whose struggles in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup have been well-documented and are entering the realm of historical futility, will get a chance to turn it around. In fact, Howard will get the chance against lefty starters, too, including the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel.

“I’m trying to give him an opportunity to get at-bats and get hot and get going,” Sandberg said before Tuesday night’s series opener against Houston. “Sometimes the remedy is to face a left-handed pitcher where the left-handed hitter has to focus on staying up the middle and left-center field, so hopefully that goes a long way.”

Batting just .215 with a .664 OPS, Howard doesn’t have a hit since last Wednesday and has one hit in his last 25 at-bats. Though he recently sat out of three straight games in order to make some needed adjustments, Howard’s struggles persist.

“He continues to make adjustments and look for a comfort zone in the at the plate,” Sandberg said.

“The reason for the rest was for him to make adjustments, which he continues to search for and continues to do, so hopefully he gets it going.”

Still, Sandberg has been unable to work in Darin Ruf at first base and the slugger has just six starts since July 22. Nevertheless, with Brown still recovering from a case of tonsillitis, Ruf is getting a start in left field on Tuesday night.

“I want the best for best players and for Ryan Howard to get going and for Darin Ruf to get some at-bats,” Sandberg said.

Still time for Brown?
Like Howard, Brown has struggled to produce anything close to his All-Star-caliber numbers from a season ago. Batting just .231 with a .281 on-base percentage, Brown’s power appears to have waned, too. Since the 2013 All-Star Game, Brown has eight home runs.

Brown hit 12 homers in May of 2013 alone.

Perhaps Brown is looking for that one hot month to give his stats some shine.

At this point, it’s all he can cling to for the rest of 2014.

“I've always been in this spot, so it's not that big a deal to me,” Brown said. “Going out there, playing my game, playing hard, doing whatever I gotta do for the team. That's all I'm here for. I'm here to win, not for finances, that's just icing on the cake. I enjoy the game, I enjoy being here.

“I've been down this road for three or four years now, so it's not nothing new to me.”

Though he hasn’t been pounding the homers like last season, Brown takes solace in the fact he has 50 RBIs in 103 games. With a hot final two months of the season, perhaps he can pad those totals a bit.

“Oh yeah, for sure, I've got 50 RBIs. End up at 80 or 90, that'd sound great,” Brown said. “Like I said I'm trying to do my little part for the team, whatever that is. I don't know if I'm platooning or what, but whenever Ryno calls on my name I'll be ready to go.”

Lee all but finished?
Sandberg said lefty starter Cliff Lee will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury on his left elbow sometime in the near future. An exam on Saturday did not reveal much, according to the manager.

However, since the injury is similar to the one Lee experienced in May, Sandberg sees the clock running out on 2014 for Lee.

“Since it’s a recurrence and the last one took two months, that’s the reality. That’s the reality here,” Sandberg said.

Tonight's lineup: Cesar Hernandez in, Maikel Franco out vs. Yu Darvish

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Tonight's lineup: Cesar Hernandez in, Maikel Franco out vs. Yu Darvish

Pete Mackanin continues to play musical chairs with his logjam of infielders.

Tonight, Cesar Hernandez returns to the Phillies' lineup playing second and leading off. He sat against lefty Clayton Kershaw and will face righty Yu Darvish tonight. Hernandez has fared better against right-handers (.293) than southpaws (.279). He leads the team with a .359 OBP this season.

Maikel Franco will take a seat tonight. Franco has been much better over his last 10 games. In that span, Franco is 15 for 35 (.371) with two homers and seven RBIs. His average for the season is still just at .232.

J.P. Crawford will take over at the hot corner and bat seventh. Crawford has been sort of up and down since his call up, but his patented control of the strike zone has certainly translated at the big league level. The rookie is hitting a modest .256 so far but has an OBP of .340.

Here is the rest of tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Nick Williams, RF
6. Aaron Altherr, LF
7. J.P. Crawford, 3B
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Aaron Nola, P

And here's how the Dodgers will line up against Nola:
1. Chris Taylor, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Justin Turner, 3B
4. Cody Bellinger, 1B
5. Curtis Granderson, RF
6. Chase Utley, 2B
7. Yasmani Grandal, C
8. Andre Ethier, LF
9. Yu Darvish, P

Phillies-Dodgers thoughts: Phils can make a statement tonight vs. Yu Darvish

Phillies-Dodgers thoughts: Phils can make a statement tonight vs. Yu Darvish

Phillies (59-91) vs. Dodgers (96-64)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Nick Pivetta the giant-killer helped the Phillies to a series-opening victory last night in a game the Phillies had no business winning. Despite having the highest ERA in the majors (6.57) among pitchers with at least 100 innings, Pivetta has somehow led the Phillies to wins in games against Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, the sport's two best lefties.

The Phils get another tough test tonight in right-hander Yu Darvish, who can be just as unhittable as Kershaw when he's not missing over the middle.

• Aaron Altherr's grand slam last night was the first ever allowed by Kershaw, who has made 302 career starts including the postseason. The Phillies are now the only team against which Kershaw is two games under .500 in his career.

• Altherr this season has eight home runs in 109 plate appearances against lefties. From 2014-16, he had just one homer against lefties in 106 plate appearances.

• Altherr has also homered 12 times in 48 games at Citizens Bank Park this year. One outta four ain't bad.

• Interesting that the Phillies shifted J.P. Crawford to third base last night and brought Cesar Hernandez in to play second once they had the lead. It kind of shows that this coaching staff views Crawford as a better defender than Maikel Franco, which is meaningful moving forward. Crawford made a fantastic running barehand pickup last night to get the Phils a tough out.

• One of the things that makes Darvish so good is that his velocity ranges from about 68 mph with his slow curve to 96 mph with his fastball. He has 9.96 strikeouts per nine innings this season, 11th-most in baseball.

• Aaron Nola (11-10, 3.60) starts tonight for the Phillies, coming off a career-high 11 strikeouts vs. the Marlins. The Dodgers are a very good offensive team but this is still a decent matchup for Nola because of the swing-and-miss in the games of Cody Bellinger, Curtis Gradnerson, Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig. Look for Nola to attack Bellinger with two-seam fastballs that start inside and come back over the inside corner after Pivetta had success doing so last night.

• Since Aug. 27, the only team in the majors with a lower bullpen ERA than the Phillies is the Cleveland Indians. Luis Garcia fired another scoreless inning last night. He's allowed one run in his last 17 appearances.