Ryan Howard gives Phillies win over Astros in 15

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Ryan Howard gives Phillies win over Astros in 15

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For Ryan Howard, manager Ryne Sandberg knew it was just a matter of time.

Little did Sandberg realize that Howard was going to hit his way out of a slump and then back into one before delivering the winning hit all in the same game.

Given the Phillies’ penchant for playing extra-inning games -- specifically games that last at least 14 innings -- the ebbs and flows of Howard’s season at the plate were on display during the 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros in 15 innings on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning (see Instant Replay).

“He was swinging the bat well,” Sandberg said. “I think it was just a matter of time.”

Howard homered to lead off the second inning for what appeared to be the game-winner for starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick. After retiring the first 10 he faced and recording 13 outs on ground balls, Kendrick finally allowed a run in the seventh inning.

By that point, though, the Phillies and Astros weren’t even halfway finished. The Phils’ bullpen held the Astros scoreless for eight innings while the team waited for Howard to come through again, barely squeaking a single through the infield shift to send the winning run home from second base with two outs.

Actually, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

Howard grounded into a rally-killing double play in the sixth inning before an encore performance in the eighth when the Phils had two on and one out. He was hit by a pitch in the 11th inning and was called out on strikes with the winning run on base in the 13th.

But in the 15th inning, with Grady Sizemore on first and two outs, Astros reliever Jake Buchanan was ordered to intentionally walk Chase Utley to bring up Howard. Even though Howard drove in the Phillies’ lone run in 35 innings to that point, and hit his 17th homer of the season, the Astros saw an escape route through the cleanup hitter.

Not this time.

“You want to go up there with a little chip on your shoulder,” Howard said about the Astros’ decision to walk Utley in order to face him. “I thought the at-bat before was a little up. Two strikes, probably have to go after it a little bit. I was just trying to stay with my approach. So when they walked Chase, I wanted to get it done. I wanted to go out there and get it done.”

Though he went into the game with one hit in his previous 25 at-bats and was batting just .215, Sandberg hasn’t moved Howard out of the cleanup spot. In fact, only one other player in baseball (Casey McGehee) has more plate appearances in the cleanup spot than Howard this season. In other words, the Phillies’ offense is going to live or die with Howard in the heart of the order this season.

Actually, that fact is alright with Howard, too. He even pointed out his track record at the plate, excluding the parts when he has fought debilitating injuries the last two seasons.

“You know, I think you guys forget what I’ve done. You guys look at what’s going on right now. People forget what I’ve done,” said the one-time NL MVP, NLCS MVP, Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star. “[Sandberg] has played the game. He knows. He knows the ups and downs of the game and he knows you’re going to have good days and bad days.

“For me, I’m just going to go out there and grind it out. I’m going to hit balls that are unfortunately going to go into the shift and balls back up the middle that guys are going to make plays on. All you can try to do is hit it hard and hopefully hit it where they’re not.”

Certainly Howard hit the ball hard against the Astros, but only his solo homer in the second landed where they were not. Regardless, there is still time for Howard to make his stat line look presentable. He’s notorious for getting hot in the final months of the season.

“He was hitting the ball hard,” Sandberg said of his cleanup hitter. “And driving in the winning run, that's a big confidence booster.”

Howard agrees.

“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve hit balls hard, over stretches. I don’t make any excuses. I come in every day and try to be positive and all you can do is hit the ball hard. What happens after it leaves the bat, it’s out of your control.”

As an extra bonus, it is actually hitting the bat for a change, too.

Next, right-hander David Buchanan (5-5, 4.40) will join the Phillies from Triple A Lehigh Valley to take Cliff Lee’s spot in the rotation on Wednesday night. To make room for Buchanan on the roster, the Phillies sent Hector Neris back to Triple A.

Neris made his major-league debut with a scoreless 15th inning on Tuesday night and earned the win thanks to Howard’s single.

The Astros will send righty Brad Peacock (3-7, 4.93) to the mound to face the Phillies.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard batting cleanup, Cameron Rupp catching

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard batting cleanup, Cameron Rupp catching

Following a day off, the Phillies continue their roadtrip with the start of a three-game set with the New York Mets.

Ryan Howard will bat in the heart of the Phillies order with Cameron Rupp at catcher following the trade of Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup remains mostly the same as it was prior to a brief two-game series with American League rules.

With Ruiz's trade, Howard is the last remaining member of the Phillies' 2008 World Series team. He'll try to throw back to that time against the ageless Bartolo Colon. 

Howard has good power numbers against Colon. He has just six hits in 28 at-bats, but has drawn three walks and has three home runs against the 43-year-old starter. There are only 18 pitchers he has faced more often than Colon.

At catcher, Rupp had already inherited the starting job from Ruiz, but he is now the backstop with more experience in Philadelphia. The Phillies called up prospect Jorge Alfaro for now, but he will likely remain on the bench and be sent down when A.J. Ellis reports this weekend. 

Rupp has five hits in 14 at-bats against Colon. He has faced only the Braves' Julio Teheran more times than Colon in his four-year career. The five hits are tied for his most against any one pitcher (Teheran).

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Colon and the Mets. 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Adam Morgan, P

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Another chance to solve the ageless Bartolo Colon

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Another chance to solve the ageless Bartolo Colon

Phillies (59-68) at Mets (64-63)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

On Day 1 of the post-Carlos Ruiz Era, the Phillies are at Citi Field to begin a three-game series with the Mets. 

Let's take a look:

1. Quick audition for Alfaro
Jorge Alfaro will reportedly be called up by the Phillies in time for Friday's game against the Mets. He might not be up long, though, as catcher A.J. Ellis is expected to join the Phils this weekend.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak spoke Thursday night about the importance of receiving Ellis from the Dodgers in the Ruiz trade. Like Chooch, Ellis is known for his game-calling ability. With Cameron Rupp being more of an offensive-minded catcher, the need still exists for a vet like Ellis.

Alfaro is regarded as the top catching prospect in baseball by MLB.com, and he will likely be called up again in mid-September, but for now the promotion seems more need-based than anything else. The Phillies need a backup catcher until Ellis arrives and Alfaro was the only catcher other than Rupp on the 40-man roster. The move made sense.

2. Yet another meeting with Colon
The Phillies face 43-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon for the fourth time this season and 13th time since he joined the Mets in 2014. 

Colon (11-7, 3.36) has lost fastball velocity each season since 2011. His heater averaged 91.7 mph that season and is all the way down to 87.7 this year. But he remains effective because he commands that fastball as well as any pitcher in baseball. Colon throws one of his two fastballs a whopping 89 percent of time. His pitch distribution this season has been 65 percent two-seamers, 24 percent four-seamers, seven percent sliders and four percent changeups.

The Phillies just haven't been able to solve Colon the last several years. In his starts against them as a Met, Colon is 8-3 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Nine of the 12 were quality starts.

Colon has a 2.25 ERA in four August starts, but he's been hittable. His opponents have hit .320 this month, but Colon has beared down with men on base.

Current Phillies have hit .229 against him with four home runs, three of which belong to Ryan Howard.

3. Morgan looks to build momentum
Adam Morgan has had a rough time in the majors in 2016, going 1-7 with a 6.21 ERA, but he's coming off his best start since early May. He allowed one run in six innings vs. the Cardinals last Friday. It was his first time pitching six innings in his last seven starts.

Morgan has faced the Mets just once, last season. He allowed five runs and 11 baserunners in 3⅔ innings.

Morgan has shown he's better than his opponents at Triple A, but in the majors he's had a lot of trouble retiring righties. They've hit .300 with 67 extra-base hits and an .887 OPS in 533 plate appearances. He's essentially made all right-handed hitters look like last year's version of Nolan Arenado.

4. Power at first
The Phillies' first base production has increased since the All-Star break as Howard has gotten hot. But Tommy Joseph continues to hit for power when given the opportunity to play, hitting his 17th homer Wednesday night in Chicago.

Since 2000, only seven players have more homers than Joseph in their first 75 games: Jose Abreu, Ryan Braun, Adam Dunn, George Springer, Albert Pujols, Trevor Story and Wilin Rosario. 

The Phillies lead the majors with 33 home runs from their first basemen. (Howard and Joseph have a combined 36, but three of them came when one was either pinch-hitting or DH'ing.)

Howard, by the way, is up to .199. A 1-for-3 game would get him above the Mendoza line for the first time since April 30.

5. This and that
• Setup man Hector Neris leads the majors with 64 appearances, but he's only getting better as the season progresses. In his last 18⅓ innings, he's allowed one run (0.49 ERA) and 11 baserunners (0.60 WHIP). He's struck out 26 and walked two.

• The Mets are third in the National League with 165 home runs but 13th in runs. It's a boom-bust offense that has gone bust far too often this season. The Mets rank 29th in team batting average (.241) and 27th in on-base percentage (.309).

• Yoenis Cespedes returned last Friday from a quad injury and has hit since, going 8 for 25 with three homers and two doubles.

• Travis d'Arnaud has always been a highly regarded catcher, and he's healthy now, but he's missed so much time over the last few years that the Mets can't be certain he's their catcher of the future. The 27-year-old was traded by the Phillies to the Blue Jays in December 2009 in the Roy Halladay deal and then shipped to the Mets three years later with Noah Syndergaard for R.A. Dickey. D'Arnaud showed flashes last season, when he hit .268/.340/.485, but he averaged 88 games in 2014-15 and has played in just 54 this season.

Phillies call up catching prospect Jorge Alfaro; likely for short stay

Phillies call up catching prospect Jorge Alfaro; likely for short stay

Prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro is coming to the Phillies. But likely not for long.

Alfaro on Friday was promoted from Double A Reading to the majors, joining the Phillies in New York for their series against the Mets at Citi Field.

Alfaro, already on the Phillies' 40-man roster, is not expected to stick. He gets the call-up with the Phillies' trade of Carlos Ruiz on Thursday night. Veteran catcher A.J. Ellis, a part of the Ruiz deal, is not yet with the Phillies but is expected to join them this weekend.

Alfaro is a strong candidate to be called up again in mid-September once Reading is finished with the Eastern League playoffs, as explained in this week's Future Phillies Report.

The 23-year-old Alfaro was acquired by the Phillies from the Rangers in last summer's Cole Hamels trade. He's ranked as baseball's top catching prospect by MLBPipeline.com with Gary Sanchez having graduated to the Yankees.

Known for his power potential and big throwing arm, Alfaro has hit .279/.321/.442 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs. He's thrown out 31 of 70 would-be base stealers, 44 percent.

CSNPhilly.com's Corey Seidman contributed to this post.