Phillies Notebook: Howard's cleanup streak comes to an end

Posted: April 03, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas - Before last night, the last time Ryan Howard started a game and didn't hit cleanup, the Phillies were in the midst of a 27-year World Series drought.

On June 29, 2008, Greg Dobbs was the designated hitter and Jayson Werth hit eighth. Marlon Byrd was in the other dugout, playing for a Rangers team that started Vicente Padilla a night earlier.

Last night, during the Phillies' first trip to Arlington since that midsummer interleague series in 2008, Howard was out of the cleanup spot.

When Ryne Sandberg drew up his lineup for the second game of the 2014 season, the manager used the righthanded-hitting Byrd to split lefties Chase Utley and Howard. It broke a string of 665 consecutive starts by Howard in the fourth spot of the Phillies' lineup. The Phils were matched up against Texas lefthander Martin Perez.

"Different lefties are different, but for this lefty tonight, I like this lineup with the balance," Sandberg said before the game. "Byrd had a good year last year against lefthanded pitching, so I bumped him up."

Byrd hit .344 with a .959 OPS against lefthanders last year; he had 21 extra-base hits, including eight home runs, in 163 at-bats. Howard has hit .173 with nine home runs and 84 strikeouts in 179 at-bats against lefthanded pitching in the last two seasons.

It's not a completely surprising lineup switch, as Sandberg employed a similar middle of the order four times in a five-game span during spring training last month in games that Howard, Utley and Byrd started together.

Last month, Howard wasn't interested in commenting about his place in the batting order, preferring to let the manager handle questions about a lineup he writes out.

"I've talked with him about it," Sandberg said yesterday. "I've talked to him a couple of times about that, the reasons for it. I noticed in the spring training games, I think he had four or five [hits when batting hitting fifth]. So he had some success there. The fifth spot is still an RBI spot with men on base. It's a power spot. It's still a good spot for him regardless.''

Howard hit .417 (5-for-12) with a home run, a walk and two strikeouts in the four games he started in the fifth spot this spring.

Less than 24 hours after walking off the field victorious from a 17-hit, 14-run offensive onslaught, Sandberg showed he cared little for superstition. Instead of running out the same lineup, Sandberg moved the cleanup hitter, whom his predecessor nicknamed "The Big Piece," and also rested two of the younger players in the lineup, Domonic Brown and Cody Asche, in favor of righhanded-hitting reserves John Mayberry Jr. and Jayson Nix.

"I like to play the whole roster and get everyone in," Sandberg said. "Generally speaking, I believe it takes all 25 guys to get through a baseball season, and to keep everybody fresh and everybody healthy is always a plus to get through the season, especially with our group of core players. For us, we need that."

Sandberg was noncommittal when asked whether he'd continue to split Utley and Howard with Byrd when the Phillies face lefthanded starters.

"We'll see," he said. "It's one lineup at a time."

Revere adjusts

After going 3-for-6 on Opening Day, Ben Revere entered yesterday hitting .351 in his last 66 games, the highest average among major league players (minimum 200 at-bats) over the stretch.

Of course, Revere missed the final half of last season. But since Revere has returned, he's made another adjustment in his game - he changed the grip on his throws from centerfield.

According to Sandberg, Revere used to have his right thumb on the side of the ball, as if he were throwing a football. Now, he grips the seams with his thumb underneath.

"We've eliminated him throwing footballs on the side, strictly baseballs," Sandberg said with a smile.

Phillers

Cole Hamels pitched into the fourth inning of an exhibition game between Class A Clearwater and Low A Lakewood last night. It was Hamels' second game action this spring. Hamels, who entered spring training 2 months ago behind schedule after battling biceps soreness in November, is eyeing a late-April return to the Phillies rotation. He'll continue building up his stamina in Clearwater during the next week . . . Kyle Kendrick will make his first start of the season when the Phillies wrap a three-game series with the Rangers tonight. He'll be opposed by lefthander Robbie Ross, who hasn't thrown more than 40 pitches in a game since June 2012. Ross, in his third season with Texas, has appeared in 123 games, all relief appearances. On Monday, the Phillies went to work on a pitcher with a similar track record: Tanner Scheppers had appeared in 115 games with the Rangers before making his first start on Opening Day . . .

The Phillies beat the Rangers, 14-10, on Opening Day. Interestingly, the two cities' respective NFL teams, the Eagles and Cowboys, have played each other 110 times but never had a game end 14-10 . . . With his home run on Monday, Jimmy Rollins is the 19th player in MLB history to have 200 or more home runs, 100 or more triples and 400 or more doubles. Fifteen of the other 18 players are in the Hall of Fame. The list: Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Jim Bottomley, Goose Goslin, Lou Gehrig, H. Earl Averill, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Medwick, Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Vada Pinson, George Brett, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Steve Finley and Johnny Damon.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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