For Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers, Ryan Howard batted fifth in the Phillies lineup. This was noteworthy because for the past six years, whenever Howard was in the starting lineup, he batted in the cleanup spot. It didn’t matter who the opposing pitcher was; if Howard was playing, he was batting fourth.
But Charlie Manuel is no longer the team’s manager. Ryne Sandberg is now making the lineup, and he apparently doesn’t feel the same loyalty to his veteran players as Manuel did. If Sandberg feels that the Phillies are better off with Marlon Byrd batting fourth and Howard batting fifth, then Howard is going to bat fifth.
(Oddly enough, the last time Howard batted fifth, the Phillies were also in Arlington playing the Rangers. So maybe the managers just feel that Howard doesn’t do well batting fourth in this ballpark?)
The move makes sense as it splits up left-handed hitters Chase Utley and Howard. However, it is reasonable to wonder how Howard feels about the change? His remarks make it seem like he might not be all that excited about it.
I don’t make the lineup. Whatever the lineup is that’s what the lineup is.
Yeah, it’s noteworthy, but at the same time I see all the other stuff… I’m not even going to go there. You can talk to [Sandberg] about all that stuff. I really have nothing to say about it. I’m going to stay away from all of that. Just try to keep everything on the up and up. You say the wrong thing and then all of a sudden… people just misconstrue or whatever. That’s not what I want to have happen.
That doesn’t exactly come off as a ringing endorsement. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it seems like Howard would love to criticize the move, but he doesn’t want to cause another situation like what happened with Jimmy Rollins in Spring Training.
Sandberg said he discussed the change with Howard, but he didn’t say if Howard was particularly happy about it.
It will be interesting to see if this becomes a regular occurrence when the Phillies face a lefty, but I’m not sure that should really be the deciding factor. Having the two lefties in a row seems to be more of a problem when teams can bring in a left-handed relief specialist to face them. If Byrd is batting between them, the opposing manager will either have to make two extra moves or have one of his pitchers at a disadvantage.
In the end, Howard will likely be the deciding factor as to whether the switch continues. If he proves he can hit well against lefties – and he did hit a home run against Rangers left-hander Robbie Ross on Wednesday – then he’ll likely always hit in the cleanup spot. But if he struggles against them as much as he has the past two seasons, then he can’t be too upset if Sandberg tries to work around that.