Phillies Notes: Ryan Howard finally gets a day off Friday

Ryan Howard has started in all 14 games this spring for the Phillies. He'll sit for the first time on Friday. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Ryan Howard has started in all 14 games this spring for the Phillies. He'll sit for the first time on Friday. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 08, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - This was not something manager Charlie Manuel devised on a whim. Each morning this spring, Ryan Howard would saunter to the bulletin board in the middle of the Phillies clubhouse to look for an answer he already knew. For 14 straight days, Howard's name appeared in the lineup.

The streak will end Friday.

"I decided that about two weeks ago," Manuel said Thursday. "I wasn't going to tell you guys."

He did not tell his first baseman, either. Howard never condemned the idea. At the same time, he would not have declined a day of rest.

Howard thrived during the Grapefruit League streak. He is hitting .364 (12 for 33) with half of his hits for extra bases. He missed all of last spring as he recovered from surgery for a torn Achilles tendon.

There was a reasoning, Manuel said, behind all of this.

"First of all, I felt like we had to get him in shape playing in games," Manuel said. "I picked a time and how much we wanted to play him. He had to play and get over some soreness and some things like that. His quads were sore and he feels better and he's getting where we want him."

Lee's early exit

Cliff Lee was surprised to see pitching coach Rich Dubee stroll toward the mound with two outs in the fourth inning of a 10-6 loss to Minnesota.

"I felt strong," Lee said. "I felt like I could keep pitching."

But this is spring, there are pitch counts, and plenty of time later for longer outings. The two blemishes against Lee were both solo home runs hit to right field in the same direction the wind was blowing.

Lee allowed 26 home runs in 2012, his highest total since 2006. The one-season spike could be bad luck, or something else.

"That comes along with throwing a lot of strikes, usually," Lee said. "And that's what I'm trying to do. Occasionally, they'll be swing mode and run into a pitch if I leave it over the plate. That's what happens. I just have to make sure I do a better job of keeping the ball down, especially if I sense they are in swing mode. Just stay out of the heart of the plate. If you do that and they hit a home run on a quality pitch, there is nothing you can do."

Lee is not about to change his pitching philosophy.

"I want them to swing as early as possible," Lee said. "That's usually a good thing. I have to make sure I'm not over the plate and up."

Bullpen battle

No one, with the possible exception of Phillippe Aumont, has jumped ahead in the fight for three Phillies bullpen jobs. Aumont has left camp to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

None of the Grapefruit League numbers means anything to Dubee - for now. Dubee said the bullpen competition will start to matter next week.

"We'll start peeking closer," Dubee said. "They've been out there for three or four times. Those last 12 or 14 days we'll start taking a real good look at them."

Two hopefuls, Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes, were tagged for runs Thursday. In small sample sizes, few of the candidates - Horst (14.40 ERA), Valdes (7.36), Justin De Fratus (9.00), Mike Stutes (9.00), Jake Diekman (3.60) - have stuck out.

Extra bases

Jonathan Papelbon will not pitch as scheduled Friday because of an illness. He threw a bullpen session Thursday and Dubee said Papelbon should appear in Saturday's game. The closer has a 43.20 ERA after two outings. . . . Both Tyler Cloyd (right forearm stiffness) and B.J. Rosenberg (right triceps soreness) threw bullpen sessions Thursday.

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