Struggling Howard benched for two days

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Struggling Howard benched for two days

LOS ANGELES – A year and a half into his five-year, $125 million contract, Ryan Howard has been benched.

Howard, mired in an 0-for-16 slump, was held out of the Phillies' lineup Friday night.

One game is a day off.

More than one is a benching.

Manager Charlie Manuel said Howard would also sit out Saturday night’s game. The Dodgers are using left-handed pitchers in both games and Howard is hitting just .173 (13 for 75) with a .222 on-base percentage, a .293 slugging percentage and 38 strikeouts against lefties.

The benching comes one day after Howard killed a rally by grounding into a double play on a down-and-away 3-0 pitch in a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers. Later in the game, he made a defensive miscue that contributed to the Dodgers' scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh.

After the game, Howard took full responsibility for the loss in an interview with reporters (see story).

Manuel informed Howard of the benching in a Friday meeting that was also attended by hitting coaches Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner.

Manuel said Howard’s benching was not punitive. It is designed to be constructive.

“They have two left-handers going in a row,” Manuel said. “Ryan will sit tomorrow, too. He’ll do hitting drills. I want to give him some time to clear his head. Right now he looks uncomfortable and he’s not seeing the ball good. We want him feeling better against left-handers.”

Manuel said Howard would return to the lineup Sunday against Dodgers right-hander Stephen Fife.

Manuel said Howard understood the reasoning for the benching.

“He’s fine with it,” Manuel said.

Howard declined comment on the matter.

“I got nothing today,” he said.

Howard, 33, is hitting .268 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 74 games this season. He has been plagued by problems with his left leg for over a year. He missed the first half of last season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and this season is playing with a cartilage problem in his left knee that he recently said causes him pain every day. The plan for now remains to play through the issue unless it becomes debilitating.

“His average is OK,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “He’s struggled at times. He’s streaky, but not as streaky on the positive side as he typically is. He could carry a team at times and he hasn’t done that yet. He hasn’t performed to his capabilities.

“He’s a better player than he’s showed this year. I think his injuries have taken a toll on him. How much it has affected him mentally, I don’t know. It may be affecting him mentally a little bit.”

Howard has 3½ seasons to go on a huge five-year, $125 million contract. Amaro recently told CSNPhilly.com that he did not regret giving Howard that deal. The GM believes Howard can still be a top run producer.

Why?

“His track record, more than anything else,” Amaro said. “More than anything else, he has to get to the point where he is healthy again. Health means something to these guys mentally. It’s hard to play at 100 percent when you’re not 100 percent. He can still be a very productive player. It’s a matter of getting him back to 100 percent. He needs to get his mojo back. One works with the other.”

John Mayberry Jr. started at first base in Howard’s place Friday night.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick out of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions that still must be answered:

How many spots remain on the bench? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. Will the Phillies go with a five-man bench, meaning there are two openings? Or will they go with a four-man bench, which opens the possibility for carrying eight relievers instead of the customary seven?

If the Phils go with a five-man bench, they will pick two from a group of four players that includes Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. The hunch is Coghlan will make the club, leaving the final spot down to Nava or Stassi. All three of those players are non-roster so the team would have to open a spot on the 40-man roster to accommodate them. Valentin has impressed -- and is already on the 40 -- but he might benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised the work of Coghlan and Stassi.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coghlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

If the Phils go with a four-man bench, Coghlan might be the only one to make the club. He is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Wednesday. If he wasn't going to make the team, he might be gone by now.

Going with a four-man bench would minimize the subtractions that the team would have to make from the 40-man roster. In that case, only one spot would have to be cleared.

A four-man bench means the Phillies could choose three relievers from a group of candidates that includes Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers could be coming on Tuesday.

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

A week before the season opener, it appears Andrew Knapp has won the Phillies' backup catcher competition.

The Phils on Monday released Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, two veterans battling with Knapp for the backup spot to Cameron Rupp.

Knapp, 25, hasn't had an impressive spring, going 7 for 38 (.184) with 16 strikeouts, but the move makes sense because he's young and has at least a chance to contribute to the Phillies in the future, unlike Hanigan and Holaday. Plus, catcher Jorge Alfaro and first baseman Rhys Hoskins will likely open the season at Triple A, meaning Knapp would not have had an everyday spot with the IronPigs.

Knapp had his best game of the spring at the right time Sunday, hitting a two-run homer and throwing out two runners on the bases (see story).

"It's pretty obvious he seems to be the guy," manager Pete Mackanin said of Knapp. "Nothing's written in stone but if you read between the lines, it pretty much tells you something about it. No secret plans or anything like that. It is what it is right now."

At 25, Knapp isn't really a prospect anymore but rather a player the Phillies want to see sink or swim at the big-league level.

"He's not going to get 500 at-bats, but one of the things you can look at is any exposure to the big-league scene is valuable toward anyone's development," Mackanin said. "Let's say Knapp gets 200 at-bats, it's worth his while and our while to judge him, to give him a sense of confidence or knowing what he's up against.

"In that regard playing in the big leagues, even in a part-time role, is important."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2013 out of the University of California. He broke out in 2015 by hitting .360 with a 1.050 OPS and more than an RBI per game in 241 plate appearances with Double A Reading.

Last season, the switch-hitting Knapp was an International League All-Star with Triple A Lehigh Valley, though he didn't have as impressive an offensive season, batting .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

"He's got a chance to be a pretty good hitter," Mackanin said. "And he's come along quite a ways defensively behind the plate to where I'm comfortable with him catching.

"Little by little he's shown improvement in the spring, even though he hasn't had the greatest spring offensively. He's had a lot of good at-bats and he's caught well."

Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp look like locks for the Phillies' bench. The final two bench spots are open with Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin in the running (see story).

CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury contributed to this report.