Ryan Howard sits; future with team in serious question

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Ryan Howard sits; future with team in serious question

Slumping Ryan Howard was not in the Phillies’ starting lineup against a left-handed pitcher for the second time in six post-all-star break games on Wednesday night, and his future with the team is in serious question.

Manager Ryne Sandberg would not use the word “platoon,” but that’s exactly what his actions suggest.

“As far as the lineup, that will be a day-to-day thing,” Sandberg said before the game.

The manager made it clear he would not let Howard’s huge contract dictate playing time.

“It's about wins and losses out here,” Sandberg said. “When the game starts, it's about winning the game and being productive and chipping in and doing the part and doing something to help win a game. If that means playing somebody else there and there's production right away -- that's trying to win a baseball game.”

Darin Ruf, recalled from Triple A on Tuesday, started at first base for the Phillies against Giants’ lefty Madison Bumgarner. Clearly, the team was prepping him to get some time at first as he played four of his last five games at Triple A at that position.

“I’m interested to see what he can do,” Sandberg said of Ruf. “I know what [Howard] can do. I've seen him for 100 games. I know what he can do. I think it's important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do also going forward.”

Over the first 100 games of the season, Howard, 34, has hit .224 with 15 homers, 57 RBIs and 118 strikeouts in 371 at-bats. Howard’s OPS, a dreadful .682, ranks 126th out of 162 qualifying major-league hitters. His OPS ranks 21st out of 23 qualifying major-league first basemen.

Over his last 25 games, Howard is hitting just .168 (16 for 95) with a .269 on-base percentage and a .221 slugging percentage. He has just three extra-base hits in that span, two doubles and a home run that came with the Phils ahead, 7-1, late in a game at Milwaukee.

Sandberg was careful not to disparage Howard, but he sounded very much like a man who was shopping for a first baseman. Prospect Maikel Franco could get a look later in the season.

Sandberg denied that he was looking for Howard’s replacement.

“But I think it's also important to see and gauge other players to see where they're at,” he said.

Howard is signed for at least two more years. Why would Sandberg want to gauge other players if Howard’s future with the team wasn’t in serious question?

Phillies officials have spent a lot of time discussing ways to retool their disappointing team in recent weeks. Trades are on the way and there could be several before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Multiple sources say the team has also discussed moving on without Howard. The team has floated his name in trade talks but Howard is owed the remainder of $25 million for this season and $60 million over the next two seasons. No team is interested in taking on that amount of money -- or even part of it because the Phils know they’d have to eat a large portion of Howard’s salary -- for a declining player.

The logical next step is to release Howard. Sources say team officials have discussed the possibility of paying off Howard and moving on without him after the season.

If Howard were let go, he would likely hook on with another team.

At times, Howard has looked like a player who would benefit from a change of scenery. He was asked about that on Thursday and said he was not interested in moving, that he wanted to press on and try to improve with the Phillies, the team he won a World Series with in 2008 and earned the NL MVP award in 2006.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Howard said. “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Me personally, I think the easiest thing to do when times get hard or don’t go your way is quit. I think it really shows the kind of character you have -- and again, I’m not talking about anybody in this clubhouse, I’m just talking in general -- but when times get hard, the easiest thing to do is quit or try to give up or whatever. For me personally, you work through it. It’s a character building kind of thing and you try to work through it. And I think once you do work through it you become that much stronger.”

Other than to direct inquiries about the lineup to Sandberg, Howard did not duck any questions as he spoke to reporters for nearly 10 minutes late Wednesday afternoon.

The two-time NL home run king and three-time RBI champ said he was disappointed in his season.

“It’s been a disappointing year for me, period,” he said. “Things haven’t necessarily shaped up the way I’ve wanted them to, coming back after basically not playing for the last two years, trying to make it through a full season. There have been a lot of highs and lows. A lot of frustration. There’s frustration from the fans, frustration period. I have my own frustrations as well.

“You know, you try to stay positive. I know people are going to put a lot on either how much money I make, or what I’m doing on the field, this or that or whatever, but at the end if the day, you go out there and try, you try to do what you can. I’m really just trying to get back in the flow of things, trying new things, lowering my hands. Trying to get back into the flow of everything. It is what it is right now. You just try to continue to work. It’s all you can do.”

Howard said he used to become engulfed by expectations. Now, he simply plays the game.

“You guys have been around me long enough to know I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve and everything and I don’t carry that burden around anymore,” he said. “Sometimes you just want to please everybody and you can’t.

“You know, sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s on a baseball field, that’s if you change oil, that’s whatever you do. I’m sure everybody in here has good days and they have bad days. We’re all human and I think people forget that.”

Howard was asked if this season was the low point of his career. He refused to go there.

“This is baseball,” he said. “I know some people might misconstrue this comment, but baseball is a game. Yeah, I get paid a lot of money to play it, but it's a game. You go out and see little kids doing it, because it's a game. You have to keep things in perspective.”

And that is clearly what Howard is doing.

“I have a beautiful wife, a son, a baby on the way,” he said. “You have to take a look at life and have to look at it for what it is. I love playing baseball, and I want to be the best that I can be and compete on a regular basis.

“As far as my career is concerned, you have good years and you have off years. The year isn't over yet. You guys have seen me get on hot streaks where I've hit 10, 11 home runs in a month. If I were to go on and have a great August and September, all of the sudden you're talking about 35 home runs and over 100 RBIs, then we can go back to this conversation. Until the season is over, this team can still do some good things. We just have to pull it together and make it happen."

The question remains: Will it happen with Howard on the roster or with him gone?

The big man’s future with the team is very much in question.

Frustration mounts — in manager's office and in clubhouse — over Odubel Herrera's antics

Frustration mounts — in manager's office and in clubhouse — over Odubel Herrera's antics

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Phillies manager Pete Mackanin favors using honey over vinegar when trying to teach enigmatic Odubel Herrera the right way to play the game.

But even Patient Pete has his limits.

So when Herrera did not run out a dropped third strike in the sixth inning of Tuesday night's 5-0 loss to the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Mackanin yanked him from the game as part of a double switch, a remarkable move considering Herrera has been the club's best hitter, batting .331 (58 for 175) since June 1.

"It had something to do with it," Mackanin admitted. "I'm going to talk to him tomorrow."

Herrera knows well the way to Mackanin's office. He's been called in front of the principal a number of times this season for transgressions that range from looking completely disinterested during some at-bats, to boneheaded base-running plays, to general lack of hustle. On one occasion, Mackanin fined Herrera for completely ignoring an order not to steal a base. Herrera decided to go anyway and was thrown out in a close game.

Herrera's antics have been noticed in the other dugout and in his own clubhouse. He lined a ball to the wall in the first inning Tuesday night and Astros centerfielder Derek Fisher made a nice running catch. Herrera had clearly assumed the ball would hit off the wall because he flipped his bat and did not run hard out of the box. After Fisher made the catch, players in the Houston dugout mocked Herrera's gaudy bat flip and later in the game Astros pitcher Charlie Morton threw one up and in on Herrera. Coincidence? Who knows?

Herrera was the Phillies' best offensive player during his first two seasons in the majors, hitting .291 with a .773 OPS in 2015-2016. Last winter, management rewarded the 25-year-old centerfielder with a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The move identified Herrera as a building block as he is the only player on the roster with a long-term deal.

Herrera was aware that his being pulled from the game was a topic of discussion in Mackanin's postgame news conference, but he did not stick around to speak with reporters.

Catcher Cameron Rupp did speak with reporters and he admitted that Herrera's misdeeds have been noticed in the clubhouse.

"It’s not a secret. It’s talked about," Rupp said. "If you guys are seeing it, we are seeing it. It is what it is. We can say it to him, Pete has said it to him. It’s no secret and when you don’t do it, you put Pete in that position to do what he did.

"Pete is the manager and what he asks us to do, we’re supposed to do. It’s a team thing and one guy can’t just not follow the rules. It’s not the first time. It has happened before and that’s something we don’t want to see. We want him in the game. He’s a good player. Pete doesn’t ask a whole lot of us. He asks us to play the game hard and play the game the right way. Guys are going to make physical mistakes. Mental mistakes are something you can control.

"Yeah, it’s frustrating. There is no doubt about it. But it’s something he asks us to do and we have to do it."

Rupp mentioned that some teammates, including Freddy Galvis, have spoken to Herrera about his flaws. Galvis, like Herrera, hails from Venezuela.

"At the end of the day, it is him that has to do it, not anybody else," Rupp said. "It's hard for us. He’s a grown man. He has to learn on his own. We can only say so much. Guys have said things. I know Freddy has talked to him. Juan Samuel has. The language barrier is there, but you have the Latin guys who can tell him. He understands enough English. But it’s something only he can control. We can only do so much."

The Phillies have lost two nights in a row to Houston, a team with a powerhouse offense and the second-best record in the majors at 67-33. On Tuesday night, the right-hander Morton held the Phils to three hits over seven shutout innings. He struck out nine. Why can't the Phillies get pitchers like that?

Rookie right-hander Nick Pivetta pitched well against a tough lineup for five innings, but he gave up five hits and four runs in the sixth inning as the game got away from him.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the latest meeting between Mackanin and Herrera on Wednesday afternoon. Will Mackanin continue to employ a nurturing touch as he tries to coax the behavior he's looking for from Herrera? Will Herrera be benched for the series finale Wednesday night?

"I have to keep having conversations with him, that's all," Mackanin said. "He's a different kind of guy. I just have to keep him pointed in the right direction.

"Odubel does a lot for us. He's just a different character. We have to deal with him in a certain way. I'll have a nice talk with him tomorrow. He's going to be fine. He's been doing very well in that regard for the last month or so. But he just needs a reminder. He's in a development stage, as well."

Best of MLB: Todd Frazier hits into rare run-scoring triple play in Yankees' win

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Best of MLB: Todd Frazier hits into rare run-scoring triple play in Yankees' win

NEW YORK -- Todd Frazier had an unforgettable first at-bat in his home debut at Yankee Stadium, grounding into a rare run-scoring triple play as New York beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 Tuesday night.

Rookie Jordan Montgomery took a no-hit try into the sixth inning, and Didi Gregorius homered to boost the AL East contenders, his third in two games.

Last-place Cincinnati lost for the 10th time in 12 games. Billy Hamilton's bid for a tying extra-base hit in the eighth was thwarted when pinch-runner Zack Cozart, out of the starting lineup to rest his tender quadriceps, hobbled into third.

Back in the Bronx for the first time since the All-Star break, the Yankees brought along Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, all acquired last week in a trade with the Chicago White Sox (see full recap).

Contreras, Cubs stay hot with win over White Sox
CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras drove in four runs and Carl Edwards Jr. provided some timely relief, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Chicago White Sox 7-2 on Tuesday.

Ben Zobrist reached four times from the leadoff spot as the Cubs won for the ninth time in 11 games since the All-Star break. John Lackey (7-9) became the first major leaguer to hit four batters in two years, but managed to get into the sixth inning for his second straight victory.

The last-place White Sox were unable to overcome a strange performance by Carlos Rodon (1-4) in their 10th loss in 11 games. The left-hander matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and smacked a two-run double for his first career hit, but lasted just four innings in his third straight loss (see full recap).

Rays hold off Orioles to snap 5-game skid
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tim Beckham's three-run homer capped a five-run inning for Tampa Bay and rookie Jake Faria pitched into the eighth inning Tuesday night to help the Rays snap a five-game losing streak with a 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Faria (5-1) posted his eighth quality start in nine starts, giving up three runs and seven hits while striking out five in 7 1/3 innings.

Alex Colome pitched the ninth for his 29th save after the Orioles got the potential tying run in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Beckham's 12th home run was the fifth hit of the second inning off Wade Miley (4-9). Steven Souza Jr., Brad Miller, Adeiny Hechavarria and Mallex Smith all singled and scored in the Rays' big inning.

Trey Mancini homered for the Orioles (see full recap).