Phillies Notes: Howard's struggles at the plate continue

Ryan Howard connects for a two-run double in the fifth inning. He also fanned twice and hit into a double play. BOB LEVEY / Getty Images
Ryan Howard connects for a two-run double in the fifth inning. He also fanned twice and hit into a double play. BOB LEVEY / Getty Images
Posted: September 18, 2012

HOUSTON - The second time Ryan Howard watched Chase Utley draw an intentional walk ahead of him Sunday, the slugger reacted in anger. He swatted the first pitch from Jordan Lyles, a curveball, off the left-field wall for a two-run double.

To show the Astros just how disrespected he felt, Howard attempted to stretch it into a triple. He failed, but his point was made.

So was the point by Houston's interim manager, Tony DeFrancesco.

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

The $125 million first baseman's slump is so bad that teams are targeting him for outs. Howard declined to comment after Sunday's 7-6 loss.

He is batting .229 with a .721 OPS in 61 games. During September, the time when Howard's bat is traditionally most productive, he is hitting .193 (11 for 57).

Even worse are his figures against lefthanded pitchers. Howard is 0 for his last 17 when facing lefties. He has struck out a staggering 38 times in 79 at-bats for a .165 average and a .516 OPS.

Add it all together and manager Charlie Manuel was hardly surprised to see Houston pitch around Utley and place the onus on Howard.

"Eh, not really," Manuel said. "But at the same time, I think it's good. Howard does take that as he's going to show you. That's good."

That happened the second time Sunday. But the first time Utley was intentionally walked, Howard worked a 3-0 count only to bounce one up the middle that went for an inning-ending double play.

His only at-bat against a lefthanded pitcher, Xavier Cedeno, ended in a strikeout.

"He's definitely having trouble with lefties," Manuel said.

Howard, 32, has repeatedly admitted he is not playing at 100 percent. His recovery from Achilles surgery will spill into next spring. Manuel has noted Howard's inability to use his back side when hitting.

He is owed $105 million over the next four seasons.

Leaving Houston

When the Houston Colt .45s entered the National League in 1962, they lost their first 17 games against the Phillies. Since then, the Houston franchise has gone 277-272 against Philadelphia.

Sunday marked the final National League game between the two teams. The Astros will join the American League West next season to balance the leagues. Their only postseason meeting was, of course, the 1980 National League Championship Series.

Extra bases

The Phillies lost consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 29-30. . . . Jimmy Rollins stole his 30th base. It marked the 10th season in which he has reached that plateau. The only shortstops in baseball history with more such seasons are Ozzie Smith and Bert Campaneris, who each have 11.

Contact Matt Gelb at, or follow on Twitter @magelb


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