"I can play all my bench players at one time," the Phillies manager said, "but I guarantee you, I won't be working very long."
That said, Manuel acknowledged he would like to start working players such as John Mayberry Jr. and Ross Gload into the lineup. He seemed to have an opportunity to do that on Wednesday against Nationals lefty John Lannan. After hitting .304 with three walks, three strikeouts and six RBI in his first six games, Raul Ibanez had hit 3-for-16 with one walk, seven strikeouts and one RBI in his previous four games. But it is hard to sit a player against a pitcher whom he has torched in the past, and Ibanez was 10-for-15 with two homers, a double and a triple vs. Lannan.
The Phillies are scheduled to face Milwaukee lefties Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson on Tuesday and Wednesday, so one of those two games might give Manuel an opportunity to work Mayberry into the lineup. It might be tougher to get Placido Polanco a day off, since Valdez, the primary backup third baseman, has been playing second. If Polanco were to rest, Valdez would likely slide over to third, with Pete Orr or Michael Martinez playing at second.
"I've got to try to get those guys some playing time," Manuel said, "because if they are going to help us down the road, they've got to play some."
Good news for Howard
It doesn't look as if Ryan Howard will deal with anything other than some lingering soreness after getting hit on the right wrist Wednesday in the Phillies' 3-2 victory over the Nationals.
Howard, who was struck on the wrist by Lannan in the fifth inning, yesterday pronounced himself ready to go after taking some swings off a tee under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.
X-rays taken after Wednesday's game were negative.
"He's a little sore, but he was in there hitting in the cage," Manuel said before last night's series finale. "He says he can play."
Howard, who entered the game hitting .333 with a .388 on-base percentage and .643 slugging percentage with a team-leading three home runs and 13 RBI, was in the lineup in his usual cleanup spot, but went hitless in four at-bats.
The Phillies can ill afford to lose their slugger, who sprained his ankle at Nationals Park late last July and ended up missing 3 weeks with the injury.
Second baseman Chase Utley remains on the disabled list with a knee injury and still is a considerable way from returning. He did some running on Wednesday, but Manuel said there is still no timetable for Utley's return. There are indications that the Phillies are hoping Utley, who has been sidelined since spring training, will be back on the field in May.
"It's still the same," Charlie Manuel said. "It's a day-to-day thing. He's slowly getting better. He's slowly feeling better. Hopefully, he keeps going that way."
The Phillies are 9-3 and in first place in the National League East. They open a three-game series against the Marlins tonight at Citizens Bank Park. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.