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.

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

ATLANTA – Two days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies have several pitchers who could be on the move.

The market for Jeremy Hellickson, Saturday night’s starter against the Braves, remains alive. The Phillies have received several offers, but nothing yet to their liking. A strong start against Atlanta on Saturday would certainly help the right-hander's value.

The Phillies had talks with Miami about Hellickson, but the Marlins filled their need for starting pitching by acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego earlier in the week.

Pittsburgh, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, the Dodgers and others remain in the market for starting pitching. The Detroit Tigers could be a team to watch on Hellickson. They had a scout come in to watch Hellickson pitch in Atlanta on Saturday night.

The headline-grabbing name on the Phillies’ trade front remains Vince Velasquez. Major league sources continue to tell CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies have had meaningful trade discussions with the Texas Rangers involving the power-armed right-hander.

Sources say a deal is unlikely at this time because the Phillies are seeking a high price and the Rangers could use their prospect resources in their quest to add a more established pitcher like Chris Sale or Chris Archer or a catcher like Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy. But it remains noteworthy that the Phillies have made Velasquez available for the right price.

What is that price?

Sources say the Phillies would like to get two hitters from Texas’ bounty. One of those hitters must be ready to play in the majors now and the other must be close. The Rangers have a number of hitters who fit this description. Outfielder Nomar Mazara is almost certainly untouchable. (He was last year in the Cole Hamels talks). Power-hitting outfielder Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Lewis Brinson would probably fit the Phils’ wish list.

A source described the Phillies as being “pretty deep” in talks with Texas. The Rangers even dispatched a top scout to watch Velasquez pitch in Atlanta on Friday night. The scout was not in attendance for Saturday night’s game.

Relievers David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez are also in play in the last couple of days before the deadline. The Giants, who need bullpen help, have had scouts tailing the Phillies for a couple of weeks.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

After scoring just once on Friday night, the Phillies are sticking with nearly the same lineup on Saturday (7:10/NBC10).

Ryan Howard moves into the cleanup spot, replacing Tommy Joseph at first base. Other than Howard, the lineup stays the same with Cesar Hernandez leading off.

Howard pinch hit in the ninth inning on Friday and hit a double, giving him a little momentum into Saturday. He last started on Tuesday vs. the Marlins. He's looked more like his normal self in July, batting .257 with a .543 slugging percentage in 35 at-bats for the month. The veteran has raised his average from a paltry .151 to start the month to a slightly less worse .167. 

He has three home runs in July and two career home runs off Julio Teheran, the Braves' starter steeped in trade rumors (see Game Notes)

Aaron Altherr makes his third start in as many days since coming off the disabled list. He went 0 for 4 on Friday after a three-hit season debut on Thursday. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco take their same spots in the lineup, batting second and third, respectively. 

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P