And on the 15th day, Iron Horse Howard will rest

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And on the 15th day, Iron Horse Howard will rest

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Ryan Howard has started all 14 of the Phillies' games this spring. That includes an intrasquad game and a contest against the Dominican Republic.

On Friday, he will get a day off.

Well, sort of.

Howard will work out in Clearwater while the Phillies send a team down I-75 to play the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte.

Manager Charlie Manuel has been riding Howard hard early in camp.

"If you're going to play 162 games, you've got to get in shape to play 300," Manuel said.

Manuel, of course, was kidding about playing Howard in 162 games. He’ll get days off during the season. But Manuel is serious about having Howard come into the season ready to go, especially after the slugging first baseman missed all of spring training and half of the regular season last year as he recovered from a torn left Achilles tendon.

“I felt like we had to get him in shape,” Manuel said. “He’s getting to where we want him. Hard work never hurt nobody. He’ll be in shape. I’ll monitor him and he’ll get his time off.”

Howard is having a good spring, hitting .364 with three homers and 11 RBIs.

Bullpen competition to heat up
Pitching coach Rich Dubee believes his pupils in the bullpen have had enough time to get loose in side work and games.

Now it’s getting to be time to show something.

“The competition begins here pretty soon,” Dubee said. “They should have enough reps in the bullpen and in games to start locking it.”

Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin are assured bullpen jobs. That leaves three spots open. One of those spots seems to have Phillippe Aumont’s name on it. Another will likely go to a lefty such as Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman or Raul Valdes. A cast that includes Mike Stutes, Aaron Cook, Justin De Fratus and B.J Rosenberg remains in the hunt, as well.

Horst hasn't had positive results in early work, but Dubee hasn’t forgotten the good work (1.15 ERA in 32 games) he did in half a season in the majors last year.

Ruf breaks out
Darin Ruf, who had been searching for hits, had a single, a double and three RBIs in Thursday’s 10-6 loss to the Twins.

“He’s going to be a really good hitter,” Manuel said. “I’ve seen guys struggle before. I don’t worry about that.”

Twins terror
Twins switch-hitter Aaron Hicks improved his chances of being his team’s opening day centerfielder by hitting three home runs off three different Phillies pitchers. The Twins traded two big-league centerfielders this winter. Denard Span went to the Nationals and Ben Revere to the Phillies.

Pitching news
Righthander Tyler Cloyd, who had been bothered by some forearm tightness, threw on the side Thursday.

Up next
Here is the Phillies' lineup for Friday’s game against the Rays in Port Charlotte:

Freddy Galvis SS

Kevin Frandsen 2B

Michael Young 3B

Carlos Ruiz C

John Mayberry Jr. 1B

Darin Ruf LF

Domonic Brown RF

Josh Fields DH

Michael Martinez CF

Kyle Kendrick starts for the Phillies again Rays’ lefty David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young winner.

Adams, Stutes and Cook will also get work for the Phillies.

Adam Morgan gets a fresh start in Phillies' bullpen

Adam Morgan gets a fresh start in Phillies' bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO – The Phillies are trying something new with Adam Morgan.

They are going to give him a look in the bullpen.

“It’s an awesome opportunity,” the 26-year-old left-hander said on Sunday after the Phillies lost to the Giants (see game story). “I need to take advantage of it.”

Morgan has been used exclusively as a starter in his career. That includes 26 big-league starts with the Phillies. But in 11 starts this season, he has a 6.55 ERA, largely because he has had difficulty getting the ball down.

Morgan was dropped from the rotation on Saturday when the club announced that Vince Velasquez would come off the disabled list and pitch Monday night in Arizona (see story). It was unclear whether Morgan would go to Triple A and continue to start or stay with the club and go the bullpen. When the club announced that lefty reliever Elvis Araujo had been shipped to Triple A after Sunday’s game, it became clear that Morgan was staying – in a new role.

“I’ve never done it before, but I will give it a shot,” he said. “I’m excited.”

Morgan can immediately give the Phils multiple innings out of the bullpen, which has run up some miles lately.

“Long man, swing guy,” manager Pete Mackanin said of what Morgan's role in the bullpen would be. “We're going to get a look at him in that role for the time being, which doesn't mean he's never going to start again for us. But at this point, we want to give it a look to see if he can pitch out of the bullpen.

“He has four pitches and he has a good breaking ball and a good change-up for right-handers. I think, having been a starter for all his career, that's just what the doctor ordered when looking for a long man. A guy who throws strikes and has pitches to get both lefties and righties out. He's got it.”

Will this be the move that makes Morgan a successful major leaguer?

Time will tell.

Aaron Nola beaten up again, and his confidence is bruised, as Phillies suffer walk-off loss to Giants

Aaron Nola beaten up again, and his confidence is bruised, as Phillies suffer walk-off loss to Giants

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO – The Phillies have another rebuilding project on their hands.

And this one requires more immediate urgency than the methodical construction of a team that club officials hope can be a contender in a couple of years.

Right now, the Phillies must rebuild Aaron Nola’s confidence. It took another beating Sunday in an 8-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants (see Instant Replay).

The 23-year-old right-hander was hit hard for the fourth straight start. He gave up a career-high 10 hits and five runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Known for being a master of control, Nola uncharacteristically hit three batters, which prompted San Francisco starter Johnny Cueto to drill Maikel Franco in retaliation.

Really, there was no need for Cueto to retaliate. Nola wasn’t trying to hit anyone on purpose, and two of his plunkings came on curveballs. He has lost his way so badly that he had no idea where the ball was going.

“He’s a little confused right now,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s approaching his first full year in the big leagues so he’s going to have some adversity. He probably hasn’t had any in quite a while, if at all. You can see his confidence is shaken. But he’s smart and a competitor. He’ll bounce back at some point.”

Nola had a 2.65 ERA in his first 12 starts this season. It has climbed to 4.45 over his last four starts as he has been tagged for 32 hits and 22 earned runs over just 13 innings.

Nola arrived in the majors 11 months ago and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts. His ERA in his last four is a troubling 15.23.

“I’m concerned,” Mackanin said. “Four starts in a row he hasn’t gotten out of the fourth. It happens. He has to battle his way out of it.”

Mackanin said “as far as I’m concerned” Nola would make his next start Saturday at Citizens Bank Park against Kansas City.

Nola’s strength has always been his ability to throw four-seam fastballs, sinkers and breaking balls away from the middle of the plate.

Lately, that strength has abandoned him. His stuff has caught too much plate and hitters have feasted.

“I’m not really finishing my pitches,” Nola said. “I’m just kind of cutting everything off, not getting on top of the ball, which leads to finishing the pitch.

“This is the first time I’ve gone through this. I’m going to keep working through the week and try to bounce back. “

Nola wouldn’t admit to his confidence being shaken, but he did acknowledge a slump like his weighs on the mind.

“You just have to fight through it,” he said

Looking to shake Nola from his slump, Mackanin paired Carlos Ruiz with Nola for the first time ever.

Ruiz sensed that Nola’s confidence is bruised.

“You can see that a little bit,” he said. “His command is not consistent. It’s tough. He’s young.”

As a team, the Phillies showed plenty of fight in this series. They battled back to beat Madison Bumgarner with three runs in the seventh inning on Saturday night and never stopped coming at Cueto on Sunday. Bumgarner and Cueto entered the series with ERAs of 1.85 and 2.06, respectively, ranking third and fourth in the NL.

“I’m real proud of the guys and the way they battled against tough pitching and a good team,” Mackanin said.

The Giants have won 32 of their last 42 games while the Phillies have lost 28 of 36.

With Nola struggling so badly, the Phils fell behind 5-1 in Sunday’s game. Nola hit his second and third batters in the third inning and Giants put four runs on the board.

With two outs in the top of the fourth, Cueto drilled Franco. The Phils went on to rally for two runs. They rallied for two more to tie the game on Cody Asche’s two-out, two-run single in the fifth.

Franco had a feeling someone would get plunked by Cueto – “it’s part of the game,” he said – and it turned out to be him. But Franco said the plunking actually was a good thing for the Phils.

“It brought us energy,” he said.

The Phillies tied the game twice more on a homer by Odubel Herrera in the seventh and an RBI hit by Ruiz in the eighth. The Giants won it on a walk-off hit by Conor Gillaspie off Severino Gonzalez with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Ramiro Pena’s long-fly double to the right-field corner preceded the hit. Rightfielder Peter Bourjos fought the sun and wind, but could not make a catch.

“The ball crossed right in front of the sun and the wind was pushing it back,” Bourjos said. Because of the elements “I couldn’t take my eye off the ball and check where the wall was. If the sun is not there, it’s a play I probably make.”

Mackanin used Gonzalez into his second inning of work because he said his bullpen had been taxed lately.

“I’m going to the bullpen so much,” he said. “I can’t use everybody the way I want every night.”

In the end, it was just another loss for a team that has already racked up a ton of them.

Of more immediate importance is the matter of fixing Nola.

Best of MLB: Indians top Verlander, Tigers for MLB season-high 9th straight win

Best of MLB: Indians top Verlander, Tigers for MLB season-high 9th straight win

DETROIT -- Lonnie Chisenhall had four hits, including one of Cleveland's four home runs off Justin Verlander in the fifth inning, and the streaking Indians won their ninth straight game Sunday by beating Detroit 9-3 to remain unbeaten in nine meetings with the Tigers this season.

Juan Uribe, Tyler Naquin and Mike Napoli also went deep for the Indians. Chisenhall was 4 for 4 with a triple and three RBIs.

Cleveland overcame three homers by former teammates, including two by Victor Martinez, to sweep Detroit for the third time this year. The Indians have outscored the Tigers 60-20 in nine games.

Only once before had Verlander allowed four homers in a start -- also against the Indians in 2007. According to the Elias Sports Bureau and Fox Sports Detroit, he became the first pitcher in franchise history to give up four in one inning.

Verlander (7-6) allowed eight runs on nine hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings (see full recap).

Chris Sale earns MLB-high 13th win of season vs. Blue Jays
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale pitched eight innings of two-run ball to become the majors' first 13-game winner, and the Chicago White Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 on Sunday.

Tim Anderson and J.B. Shuck homered to help Chicago take two of three from slumping Toronto, which has dropped five of seven. The White Sox returned to .500 (38-38) with their fifth win in seven games.

Sale (13-2) allowed five hits, struck out seven and walked two in his fourth straight victory. The ace left-hander matched his win total from all of 2015 when he was 13-11 (see full recap).

Jose Fernandez strikes out 13 Cubs in Marlins' win
MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez delivered another gem at Marlins Park, allowing one run in seven innings and striking out 13 Sunday to help Miami beat the faltering Chicago Cubs, 6-1.

The Marlins won three of four from the injury-depleted Cubs, who went 1-6 for the week but still have baseball's best record.

Fernandez improved his career record at home to 24-1 with a 1.48 ERA, and this year the right-hander has been pretty good everywhere -- he's 10-3 with a 2.28 ERA and 138 strikeouts.

Giancarlo Stanton doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the sixth for the Marlins, who went 7-3 on their homestand. At 41-35, they're six games above .500 for the first time since June 2012, their first season in Marlins Park (see full recap).