Philadelphia Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg dropped struggling first baseman Ryan Howard to seventh in the batting order for the first time since 2006 for the game against the Washington Nationals on April 16.
The Philadelphia Phillies have dropped first baseman Ryan Howard to seventh in the batting order.
According to MLB.com's Jeff Seidel, that's the first time it has happened since 2006. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg made the decision prior to Philadelphia's 5-2 loss to the visiting Washington Nationals on April 16.
Howard batted 1-for-3 to go with an intentional walk in the loss. Prior to the game, he had been batting just .148. His hit on Thursday ended an 0-for-7 drought and upped his batting average to 1.67, per Seidel.
Howard told MLB.com he is taking the move as a challenge:
"I've been in situations like this before. This isn't the first time that I've gotten moved down in the lineup or anything like that. For me, you just try to look at it as an internal challenge.
"Do I can feel I can hit fourth? Yeah, I know I can. I'm not worried about it. I'm not trying to look too far into it or anything like that. If I'm hitting in the seven-hole, do the best I can that day."
On the other hand, Sandberg said he had a conversation with Howard about the latter's situation prior to the game against Washington, per MLB.com:
"I talked to him this afternoon and just told him, 'Hey, it's creating a lineup, trying to win the baseball game. And so [I told him], 'In the meantime, just keep working.' Howie's done everything that's asked on the defensive side of the ball, and the offensive side of the ball.
"If he could get hot, then I'd have some flexibility and choices in the lineup, so that would be the best scenario."
Sandberg told CSNPhilly.com's John Finger on April 16 part of the reason why he moved Howard down the batting order is to create some balance considering the norm is for left-handed relievers to attack the heart of Philadelphia's order when second baseman Chase Utley and Howard are called to hit back-to-back.
Sandberg tweaked his batting order on Thursday to look like this: Utley at the third spot with Jeff Francoeur, Cody Asche, Carlos Ruiz, Howard and Darin Ruf, per CSN Philly.
"I like the balance of it," Sandberg told Finger. "It didn't totally produce tonight, but there's some balance there."
The Philadelphia Daily News' David Murphy notes Howard has been struggling mightily against the fastball. Prior to the game against the Nationals, he was 4-for-27 with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
Murphy says Howard "was averaging a swing-and-miss every five fastballs," which represents a nearly 100 percent increase from his career average against that kind of pitch.
A good majority of the pitches coming Howard's way have been fastballs -- 65 percent of them have been sinkers or four-seamers, per The Philadelphia Daily News.
Sandberg discussed with Murphy how Howard can possibly fix his fastball woes on Thursday:
"With the amount of fastballs he's getting, he should look fastball and disregard the breaking ball until he gets two strikes.
"I do see bat speed. Now it's about going up and being on the pitch."
Phillies starter Cole Hamels also continued to struggle. He gave up two home runs in the three-run loss to the Nationals on Thursday, per MLB.com.
The win moved Washington to third in the National League East with a 4-6 (.400) mark while Philadelphia slipped to 3-7 (.300) on the young MLB season.
The 35-year-old Howard has amassed 1,307 hits, 334 home runs and 1,059 RBIs on a .265 batting average in his 12-year major-league career with the Philadelphia Phillies, per ESPN stats.
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