Howard sits again for Phillies

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Benched Ryan Howard watches yesterday's game. After game, Howard told reporters to "talk to the manager.''
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Benched Ryan Howard watches yesterday's game. After game, Howard told reporters to "talk to the manager.''
Posted: July 25, 2014

YESTERDAY afternoon, Day 2 of Ryan Howard's benching, manager Ryne Sandberg finally used the word "platoon" when talking to reporters before the game.

Howard's absence for the series finale against the Giants was a bit more surprising than Day 1, only because it was righthander Tim Hudson on tap to pitch for San Francisco, not All-Star lefthander Madison Bumgarner.

Howard has faced Hudson more than any other pitcher in his career (23 more plate appearances than any other pitcher, in fact) and has had a lot of success: 22-for-67 (.328), 1.112 OPS, seven home runs, 12 walks, 11 strikeouts. He once hit three home runs off Hudson in a game.

But the happenings at first base might be as much about playing Darin Ruf as they are about benching Howard. After going hitless in his first game in place of Howard, Ruf went 1-for-4 with a strikeout in the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Giants.

"It's still early in the process," Sandberg said. "I wanted to see him play for a couple of games and get him at-bats against a lefthanded pitcher and a righthanded pitcher and basically go from there. He moves real well over at first base and we'll continue to watch."

Ruf, who only arrived back in the big leagues 3 days ago, is grateful to be on the receiving end of more playing time.

"It's a good feeling to know you can be counted on to help the team win the game," Ruf said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity whatever it may be."

When the guy making more money than any other position player in baseball this year is on tap to lose playing time, it's obviously a big deal. Only Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke ($28 million) is making more than Howard ($25 million) this season.

But the reality is that Howard isn't likely to be the lone veteran to see decreased playing time in the season's final 2 months. Ben Revere and Domonic Brown have begun sharing at-bats with Grady Sizemore in the outfield and, at some point in the next 2 months, top prospect Maikel Franco is likely to arrive, too.

With or without Howard, it's difficult to field a lineup with Ruf, Franco, Brown, Asche without someone losing at-bats. But that's also the challenge for Sandberg in seeing just what he has in each of his young players in the final months of 2014, to have a better understanding of what he has to work with in 2015.

"A little bit challenging," Sandberg said. "But there will be some rotation or if a guy gets hot, that's one way to stay in the lineup - produce and get hot."

Like many of the younger players on the roster, the front office hasn't had a long enough look to know exactly what it has in Ruf.

After replacing an injured Howard last July, Ruf hit .247 with 14 home runs and an .806 OPS in 73 games. He led the team in home runs after the All-Star break, with 12, and finished the season with a .348 OBP (tied with Chase Utley for the team lead, although Utley played in 58 more games).

Once again, Ruf, who battled rib-cage and wrist injuries in the season's first half, won't get anything more than a 2-to-3-month big-league audition this season. But at least he's getting an audition, and at the expense of decreased playing time for a former National League MVP.

"I just try to block that stuff out," Ruf said of the possible awkwardness of taking over for Howard. "Ryan is a great player. He's going to be counted on to help this team win in the last 2 months, hopefully. If we can share a role in making that happen, or he becomes the player that he once was and that we know he can be, and if it's my opportunity I'll just look forward to proving I can be that guy, too."

After speaking to reporters for almost 10 minutes on Wednesday, Howard declined to speak following yesterday's game. He had a one-on-one meeting with Sandberg before the game.

"Talk to him," Howard said, referring to his manager, as he left for the night. "Bye. Talk to the manager."


Jonathan Papelbon wants you to boo him. And loudly, please.

The volatile veteran closer returned to the mound at Citizens Bank Park for the third straight day yesterday. After blowing a save with a game-tying home run on Tuesday and then giving up three runs in the ninth inning of a tie game on Wednesday, Papelbon was greeted with a healthy collection of boos when he walked out of the bullpen and onto the field.

He made quick work of the Giants, retiring all three hitters he faced for his 24th save. The boos were motivating, apparently.

"I enjoy it," Papelbon said. "I just think it's fun. It brings a little bit of energy and life to the ballpark. It gives me a little bit of something to look forward to everyday . . . Maybe we can get the whole park going here soon."

Papelbon has converted 24 of his 27 save opportunities this season. Yesterday he collected career save No. 310, tying him with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for 21st all-time.

Papelbon is four saves away from moving ahead of Tug McGraw and into fifth place on the Phillies' all-time saves list. That could surely bring some boos, given McGraw's popularity.

Bring it on, Papelbon said.

"I mean, you have to be able to take it if you want to dish it out," Papelbon said. "I think that goes both ways for me and the fans. It's kind of like a big brother-little brother relationship, I would say."

More Phils: Cole Hamels shows why he should stay.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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