Pete Mackanin is nearing a long-term decision regarding Ryan Howard, Tommy Joseph and the endless drama surrounding the Phillies' first basemen.
Howard, who has had more beers thrown at him than starts in the month of June, was out of the Phillies' lineup again Monday for their series opener against the Cubs and left-hander Jon Lester.
When Howard starts Tuesday against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks — as Mackanin said he would — it will be the first baseman's first start in exactly a week.
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The situation gets more sensitive by the day. Howard, to his credit, has not been a distraction in the Phillies' clubhouse. He's tried to be the exact opposite. But the situation itself is a distraction, one that Howard can't make go away by being personable or positive. The awkwardness of the whole thing lingers, and he, Mackanin and Joseph are being asked about it on a daily basis.
By starting Joseph, Mackanin is both trying to put his best team on the field and give the organization a chance to evaluate one of its future pieces. But he doesn't like what's going on.
"The whole thing is delicate and a lot of it concerns me," Mackanin said Monday. "I'm sure [Howard's] not happy about the position he's in. I'm not happy about it. I've got to do something at some point, we'll see what happens. It's not a lot of fun.
"I'm just gonna get a look at him [Tuesday], see how he looks, and I'll probably make a decision on how I'll handle the whole thing in the near future."
That decision would likely involve Mackanin officially naming Joseph the starting first baseman. It's obviously not his call whether or not to release Howard, who is still owed about $25 million between his 2016 salary and 2017 buyout of $10 million. That decision falls on the Phillies' front office, and GM Matt Klentak did say last Friday that so far, he's gotten no indication that Howard has been a distraction or created any animosity in the clubhouse.
"You've just got to stay positive," Howard said Monday. "I mean, it's easy to get down, it's easy to be miserable, but you've just got to stay positive, because being miserable, what good does it do you?
"To me, I don't want to be a distraction to these other 24 guys in here, because to me it's always been about playing baseball, that's it. I've got to take care of what I need to take care of. I don't want to bring any extra burdens on these guys because I know how hard they work and they don't deserve that.
"I understand it's news and people are going to talk about it, but I'm not trying to put my focus there. I'm trying to put my focus on what I need to do to get back to where I need to be and to be able to play at a high level."
At this point, Howard can no longer play at a high level. He's hit .151 this season, .217 the last three years and .225 the last five. The occasional home run is no longer outweighing what Howard is costing the Phillies at the plate, in the field and on the bases.
Mackanin hasn't deluded himself from that fact and hasn't hid it from Howard.
"I asked a former major-league manager how to handle a situation like that, a guy who's been around [a while]," Mackanin said. "He said, basically, the best way to handle it is to tell the player, 'You've got to hit better, you've got to hit better.' So if it comes to that point, that's what I'm going to tell him. I'm going to play him tomorrow and see how he looks and we'll go from there."