Phillies Notebook: Astros show no respect for Howard

Posted: September 17, 2012

HOUSTON - In the fifth inning of Sunday's eventual, deflating defeat in Houston, the Astros chose to walk Chase Utley intentionally and take their chances with Ryan Howard with two on and two outs. It was the second straight time the Astros walked Utley to face Howard.

Houston wanted to face Howard, the former National League MVP who had six straight seasons of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI entering 2012.

Howard may have been surprised, but Charlie Manuel was not.

"Eh, not really," the Phillies manager said after a 7-6 loss. "But at the same time, I think it's good. Howard does take that as he's going to show you. That's good. But, yeah, I wasn't surprised."

After grounding into an inning-ending doubleplay the first time the Astros walked Utley to face him, Howard made Houston pay when they went that route the second time. His opposite-field, two-run double gave the Phils a 4-2 lead.

But it would be the slumping Howard's only hit of the day: His September swoon continued with two more strikeouts in a 1-for-4 afternoon. He is hitless in his last 17 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.

Howard declined to talk after the game.

Traditionally, Howard's bat has heated up in the season's last month. He entered Sunday hitting .298 with 63 home runs, 187 RBI, a .412 OBP and a .621 slugging percentage in the 228 regular-season games he has played after August in his career.

Howard is hitting .193 (11-for-57) this month with 15 strikeouts in 15 games. He hasn't hit a home run since the last day of August and he's struck out in 76 of his last 194 at-bats dating to the last week of July.

For Houston manager Tony DeFrancesco, it wasn't a difficult decision to pitch around Utley to get to Howard in consecutive at-bats.

"Howard, for me, was struggling the first couple days and wasn't even getting a good swing," DeFrancesco said, "and if I was going to have somebody beat me, it was going to be Howard."

Ironically, DeFrancesco decided to intentionally walk Howard and take his chances with Carlos Ruiz with two outs and the game-tying run on second in the ninth inning. DeFrancesco's decision paid off, as Ruiz hit a ball off the end of his bat, a weak, ground ball to first base to end the game.

Error hurt

The floodgates on Houston's four-run seventh inning were opened when an impressive play turned into a bad one by starting third baseman Michael Martinez.

After Antonio Bastardo struck out the first batter of the inning, All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve ripped a ball down the third-base line. Martinez made an impressive, diving stop but then got on his feet and threw the ball wide of Ryan Howard at first.

The error was the second by a Phillies third baseman in back-to-back days and the 21st in 147 games this season. Only four National League teams - San Francisco (22), Houston (23), Miami (23) and Pittsburgh (24) - have had more errors from their third basemen in 2012.

In 2011, when Placido Polanco won a Gold Glove, the Phils made just 13 errors at third base, tied with Cincinnati for the fewest in baseball.

"Bottom line is we've been trying to find out who the best defensive third baseman we've got," said Charlie Manuel, who has been without a healthy Polanco since the end of July. "When [Pete] Orr was up here before, he had trouble on defense. Michael, all of a sudden, he is showing you he's having trouble throwing, too."

Martinez bounced a couple routine throws to first base on Sunday that were saved by Howard.

Phillers

Jimmy Rollins stole his 30th base in the fifth inning. Rollins has stolen 30 or more bases in 10 of his 12 seasons . . . Antonio Bastardo's string of 10 straight appearances without allowing a run ended in the seventh inning. Bastardo gave up two runs (one earned). He began the inning by striking out the first batter he faced. In his last 11 games, Bastardo has 18 strikeouts and one walk in 8 2/3 innings . . . Cliff Lee (5-7, 3.36 ERA) will attempt to snap the Phils' two-game skid Monday night at Citi Field against the Mets. Lee is 3-0 with a 0.99 ERA in his last four starts. He'll start opposite National League Cy Young Award contender R.A. Dickey (18-5, 2.68).


Contact Ryan Lawrence at rlawrence@phillynews.com.

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