Phillies manager Charlie Manuel gets defensive about his cleanup hitter

Posted: June 14, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS - Ryan Howard has been the Phillies' every day cleanup hitter for most of the last half decade.

In fact, Charlie Manuel hasn't penciled Howard's name in any spot but fourth in his starting lineup in nearly 5 years. On June 29, 2008, Manuel slotted the righthanded hitting Pat Burrell in the cleanup spot in between lefties Chase Utley and Howard at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

In the 646 games Howard has started since that night in Texas, he has hit fourth in the Phillies lineup. Howard was in his customary spot last night at Target Field. But since his power production has been in steep decline - he entered the night with one home run since May 8, a span of 107 plate appearances - the question came up before the game in Charlie Manuel's daily pregame meeting with the press corps.

Already in an ornery mood after his team followed a five-game winning streak with a four-game losing skid, the manager became agitated and went on a lengthy rant about his team's struggles in general when asked about Howard's place in the lineup.

"How many runs did we score last night?" Manuel said of a 3-2 defeat. "[Howard] knocked in one of them. What the [bleep] are you getting at? Who's going to hit there? Let me ask you a question. Let me turn that around some."

Domonic Brown leads the National League in home runs, with 19, and is in the top five in RBI (48) and slugging percentage (.586).

"I could put anybody in there, OK?" said Manuel, who often gets defensive about his lineup. "Really, if you think about it. I'll do the managing. Whoever hits there, hits there."

Of course, moving Howard down a spot or two might not make much of a difference in the big picture - and it may send the wrong message to the struggling slugger. And it's not as if the current lineup, with both Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz on the disabled list, is rife with other, middle-of-the-order options.

The Phils' offseason additions haven't exactly worked out. Forty-six of Michael Young's 58 hits this season have been singles, Ben Revere doesn't get on base enough to bat at the top of a healthy lineup, and Delmon Young entered last night with a lower batting average (.224) and slugging percentage (.422) than Howard.

Although he has been hobbled by a left knee injury this season, Howard is being paid like one of the game's top sluggers, but isn't producing like one. Howard's .437 slugging percentage ranked 76th in baseball entering yesterday. He has four extra-base hits in 11 games this month - none of them home runs.

"Of course, I'm concerned," Manuel said, beginning a heated rant. "I'm concerned with everybody. Hey, look, I'm concerned with every [bleeping] player I got. Yeah, I'm concerned.

"I want to win. We say that we want to win the division and we want to go to the World Series, right? I'm concerned about every one of our guys. I'm concerned about that .245 or .248 team batting average. I'm concerned about that.

"I'm not only concerned about one guy, I'm concerned about them all. How about that? I don't know what I can do about it. I can go back to my room and sit there and look at the walls, and get up and come to the ballpark and look at the walls. I don't know what I can do about it. The only thing I can do is to put them out there and let them play."

DN Members Only : For the Phils, another bullpen abomination.

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