Ryan Howard, Phillies Trying to Shake Off the Rust

Ryan Howard, Phillies Trying to Shake Off the Rust

Not many ball players have ever received a rousing ovation
for getting thrown out at third base, not the way Ryan Howard did at Citizens Bank
Park on Friday night.

The Big Piece had just hit his second home run in as many
days during the previous at bat, and fourth over the last nine games, so he was
understandably feeling a little frisky. Next time up Howard swept a double into
the right-field corner, a place where Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna was
experiencing some difficulty collecting the ball.

With the Phillies already ahead comfortably in the third
inning – 3-0 being considered comfortable when the opponent is the Miami
Marlins – Howard “made an executive decision.” He rounded second and charged
toward third.

[ Watch Ryan Howard
try for three
]

It turns out this Ozuna kid has a hose attached to his right arm, as
the 22 year old delivered a rope to cut-off man Donovan Solano, who in turn
fired the perfect relay throw to Placido Polanco as Howard belly-flopped
head-first at the third baseman’s feet. Polly applied the tag with several
moments to spare.

Then it happened. The fans… cheered. Howard… laughed, along
with his teammates in the dugout. Everything was okay.

It’s easy to forgive and forget when the mistake comes at
the hands of the Marlins, who predictably did not go on to put up much of a
fight in the Phils’ 4-1 victory. Miami’s record fell to 8-22 for the season,
tied with the Houston Astros in the American League for worst in Major League
Baseball.

There is something to be said for enjoying oneself at the
ball park though – no matter who you are – and Howard’s jaunt seemed to lighten
the air on the diamond for possibly the first time since spring training concluded. It
was about more than stretching a double into a triple.

It was about the Phillies feeling like their old selves again.

How well cleanup is swinging the bat of late is no doubt easing
some of the pressure inside the clubhouse as well. Howard has been hitting for
average since the first week of the season; now he’s starting to hit for power
and driving in runs. In the 10 games since April 22, Howard has notched 12 RBI
and crossed the plate eight times himself, while his slugging percentage has
risen more than .150 points.

And don’t look now, but Howard may just be beginning to
creep into the league leaders in certain categories amidst this current assault.
He moved into a tie for seventh in the National League with 14 extra base hits, and his five bombs, 18
RBI and a .519 slugging all crack the top 25.

Yes, Howard has also struggled in some aspects. He's tied for 54th out of 91 qualifiers in the NL with a .319 on-base percentage, a byproduct of his drawing a mere six walks to date. The contact numbers clearly are not bad at all however.

His was not the only bat to put on a show for the 36,292 in
attendance, either. Chase Utley (6) and Domonic Brown (5) added solo blasts of their own.

The fireworks display coupled with good vibes at Citizens
are a positive sign. The Phillies feasted at home during the run of success from
2007 to ‘11, posting a 246-162 record – an impressive .603 winning percentage. Compare that to last season when they finished just one game above .500 in South Philly.

So far the Phils are only 7-8 this year when they have home-field
advantage, a number that likely must be in their favor if they are to reach the
playoffs. Call it a comfort level, call it the dimensions of the stadium. For whatever
the reason, this group can get on a serious roll in their own building.

Sooner or later they have to beat a few
teams besides the Marlins and Mets no matter where the contests are held, yet all
things considered the Phillies are not in bad shape. Both the Braves and Nationals
lost on Friday, which puts the good guys just 3.5 back of first place.

The core may be getting old, or even feel like they have
something left to prove, but Howard and his mates should try to loosen up more
often. Who knows, maybe his hopeless attempt at third will rub off on a few of the guys, and the Fightins might continue to play like they actually like this
baseball thing again.

Judging from the final results here, it couldn't possibly be a bad thing.

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>> Box Score [CBS]

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Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

brett-brown.jpg

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.