Ten seasons after he hit 58 home runs and drove in 149 runs to win the National League MVP award, Ryan Howard is heading to the bench.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made the move he’d been talking about for a couple of weeks when he announced Wednesday that Howard would be out of the starting lineup for the “next three or four” games so he can take a look at rookie first baseman Tommy Joseph.
Joseph had already cut into Howard’s playing time. If he continues to produce he could take over the job permanently, Mackanin said.
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Howard, 36, is hitting .154 for the season. He has eight homers and 19 RBIs. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May and struck out 28 times.
Mackanin informed Howard of his plan during a meeting in the manager’s office at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon. Mackanin said the two men had a “great” conversation.
“We had an adult conversation,” Mackanin said. “He didn't yell or scream or get upset. He knows where he's at. We just had a great conversation. A tough conversation but a good one. He's accepted what I'm doing.”
Later in the day, Howard spoke to reporters in front of his locker. He said he planned to use the time off to work on his swing and be ready for possible pinch-hitting assignments. He said he spoke with Joseph and encouraged him to “kick some butt.” Howard also said he was not conceding his job, that he intended to earn back playing time.
And, he added, he is not walking away, packing it in, retiring, quitting — call it what you want.
“I’m not going to quit,” he said. “That’s not in the vocabulary. That’s the easiest thing to do, quit and give up when things are hard. You really see what you’re made of when things are not going the way you want them to go. Things are real easy when you’re going good and everybody’s all behind you, and you see how things turn when things aren’t going so well. You’ve got to continue to battle. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Howard is in the final guaranteed year of a five-year, $125 million contract. He is still owed more than $26 million in the form of 2016 salary and a buyout of his 2017 option year.
Joseph, 24, came up from Triple A on May 13. He hit .270 (10 for 37) with three homers and five RBIs in his first 13 games with the club.
“I want to see Joseph and I thought it was the right thing to do,” Mackanin said. “Hey, we like him. We'll see what he does.”
Mackanin said it was “possible” that Joseph could win the job if he continues to produce.
“It's not really so much about Ryan,” Mackanin said. “It's about seeing the younger guy who tore it up in Triple A and came up here to make a good first impression. We want to get a look at him. As we know, this season is about the future. We're in the middle of a rebuilding process. Joseph, it's like what we said about [Darin] Ruf last year. We had to find out about him to see if he fit in. Same way.
“What makes this whole situation interesting is we're playing .500 baseball after two months. I don't think anybody expected us to play .500 baseball. We're not that far out of first place. You hang onto the hope that we have a chance. I don't think anyone thought that going in. It makes it more interesting that winning has become a lot more important. We have to try to augment the offense.”
The Phillies are averaging just 3.15 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
Mackanin said he made the decision to sit Howard and go with Joseph on his own. He said the front office was not part of the decision.