Phillies Notes: In a surprise, Howard bats fifth

Ben Revere dives after a ball that went for double by Atlanta's Gerald Laird in the fourth inning.
Ben Revere dives after a ball that went for double by Atlanta's Gerald Laird in the fourth inning. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: March 12, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - There was no reason to read between the lines on the Phillies lineup Monday, Ryne Sandberg said. The manager batted Marlon Byrd fourth and Ryan Howard fifth.

"Just to split up the lefthanded bats for another look," Sandberg said.

If it was jarring, that is because Howard last batted fifth on June 29, 2008. Pat Burrell was the cleanup hitter that night against Texas. The Phillies lost a game started by Jamie Moyer, now one of the team's TV broadcasters.

Howard has started 664 regular-season games, all as the No. 4 hitter, since then. Former manager Charlie Manuel said Howard would forever be his cleanup batter. There is no reason to believe that status will change - at least not yet - under Sandberg.

"That's yet to be seen," Sandberg said. "It was just something to try today in spring training. Separate the lefthanded bats and see what that looks like. As it turned out, Howard still came up in a cleanup hitter's type of a situation with men on base."

Chase Utley singled and Byrd walked in the first inning of Monday's 8-1 loss to Atlanta. Howard flied out to center against Braves righty Brandon Beachy. Byrd stroked a two-out double in the third, but Howard stranded him with a groundout to first base.

Sandberg batted Carlos Ruiz sixth and Domonic Brown seventh to alternate lefthanded and righthanded batters through most of the order.

Quiet bats

The Phillies are averaging 3.4 runs per game in Grapefruit League play, and that includes an 11-run outburst against Houston last week. Their .589 OPS is the worst in the majors this spring.

"It's March 10," Sandberg said. "It's also a spring-training atmosphere. Some guys are two at-bats, three at-bats, and out. Sprinkled with days off in there, kind of a choppy schedule for guys. We're still seeing everybody, giving everybody ample at-bats. Maybe it's hard for guys to get into a groove and get into a rhythm.

"When I look at the potential of the lineup and the potential bats we have together, I see an offense that has potential of doing some things. I put a lot on it being March 10."

Extra bases

Jonathan Pettibone (shoulder) will face hitters in live batting practice Wednesday. He is likely to begin the season on the disabled list. . . . David Buchanan, a candidate for fifth starter, will start Tuesday in Orlando against Atlanta.

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