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.

Hits King Pete Rose on Phillies' Wall of Fame ballot

Hits King Pete Rose on Phillies' Wall of Fame ballot

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have released their Wall of Fame ballot for 2017 and Pete Rose is on it for the first time.

Baseball’s all-time hits king joins Steve Bedrosian, Larry Christensen, Jim Fregosi, Gene Garber, Placido Polanco, Ron Reed, Scott Rolen, Manny Trillo and Rick Wise on the ballot.

The Phillies had to receive permission from commissioner Rob Manfred to include Rose on the ballot. Rose was placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list in 1989 after he admitted to wagering on baseball during his time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The ban precludes him from appearing on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Rose is still on the ineligible list, but Manfred has shown some leniency in recent years and Rose has been able to participate in some ceremonies. He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame last summer. 

Rose was one of the stars on the Reds’ Big Red Machine, a club that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976. He came to the Phillies as a free agent before the 1979 season. He spent five years with the Phils and his leadership was considered key in getting a talented team over the top on its way to winning the 1980 World Series. 

The Phillies’ Wall of Fame ceremony will take place Aug. 12 at Citizens Bank Park. 

Fans have a voice in the voting, which is has begun on the team’s website -- www.Phillies.com. Fans can select their top three choices and the five finalists will serve as the official ballot for a special Wall of Fame selection committee.

Phillies 6, University of Tampa 0: Prospects put on a show

Phillies 6, University of Tampa 0: Prospects put on a show

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies offered up a sneak peek of their Triple A roster on Thursday and, frankly, it was kind of exciting.

Now, we won't go overboard here. That’s never a wise thing to do when a bunch of solid major-league prospects beat up on a college team in a spring training game. Lessons have been learned over the years. Remember that time Domonic Brown electrified camp when he turned around a 96-mph fastball from Justin Verlander and hammered it like a missile over the right-field wall?

Enough said.

But if things like home run power and bat speed and rocket throwing arms and good infield work light up your radar gun then this was a fun day and an entertaining peek at what's going to be playing 60 miles north of Philadelphia at Lehigh Valley in a few weeks.

Manager Pete Mackanin used a lineup filled with prospects for the team’s annual good-will exhibition game against the University of Tampa.

The Phillies won the game, 6-0. They out-hit UT, 12-2, in the seven-inning game.

“This gave us home-field advantage for next year when we play these guys,” Mackanin quipped afterward.

The skipper was in a good mood and justifiably so.

The kids put on a good show.

“I know it’s a college team, but we looked good all around,” Mackanin said. “We swung the bats well. We played well defensively.”

The Phillies' farm system has improved over the last couple of seasons. There are players at the upper levels -- and even more at the lower levels -- with game-breaking tools. Those tools were displayed in this game.

• Centerfielder Roman Quinn singled and scorched a line-drive home run over the right-field wall. Quinn is working on shortening his swing this spring. The home run came on a quick swing and jumped off his bat.

• Scott Kingery, the 22-year-old second baseman picked by the Phillies in the second round of the 2015 draft, made three nice plays in the field, one to his right, one to his left and one on a double-play ball. He actually projects to open at Double A, but could be a quick mover. Jesmuel Valentin projects to play at Triple A. He's been bothered by a sore shoulder.

• Outfielder Nick Williams was hitless but drove the ball well.

• Dylan Cozens, the lefty-hitting behemoth who swatted 40 homers, the most in all of minor-league ball, for Double A Reading last season clubbed a long home run over the batter’s eye in center field.

“Ryan Howard is the only guy I’ve ever seen do that,” one longtime security guard at Spectrum Field said.

“The ball makes a different sound coming off his bat,” Mackanin observed.

• Top prospect J.P. Crawford booted a ball in the first inning, but that happens. He came across the second base bag like a blur when he teamed with Kingery in turning a double play.

• Andrew Pullin showed his sweet lefty stroke with a scorching base hit to right field. It was one of those line drives that nose-dived into the ground because it had so much hard top-spin on it. Pullin has a short, Jim Eisenreich type of swing, and it will carry him to the big leagues someday, maybe even this year as he would be an intriguing bat to have coming off the bench.

• And then there was catcher Jorge Alfaro. Power -- with his throwing arm and his bat -- is his big tool. He showed it gunning down a would-be base stealer with a laser-beam throw to second and later by lining a pitch off the top of the wall in right-center. Alfaro seemed to simply flick his wrists and drive the ball through a stuff wind. With no wind, it was a homer.

Again, all of this came against a college team. All of these prospects still have miles to go in their development and the rigors of the unforgiving baseball schedule, not to mention pitching that improves with every step, has a way of thinning the field.

But these prospects -- and their tools -- impressed the field boss.

“If they go to Triple A and pound the ball like they did today -- that’s what we’re hoping for,” Mackanin said. “It was a good day to give those guys some confidence. We want to see what they can do and what they can’t do. It was against a college team, but you can get a good glimpse of the future, see what they’re capable of doing. I’m going to try to see the young guys as much as I can early in the spring.

“It’s really encouraging to see these guys. Every one of them has very good potential, more than I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

“I was talking to Charlie Manuel (who sees the entire system in his front office role) before the game and he said up and down the system we have a lot of good players. Perhaps not necessarily blue-chip prospects but enough where you know some of them are going to make their way to the top and this is a good start with what we’re looking at right now.”