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Struggling Howard sits, reflects on frustrating season

Darin Ruf arrived into the Phillies clubhouse late Tuesday afternoon. He was in the starting lineup in place of Ryan Howard a day later. It could become a trend, as Howard, finally healthy, has struggled to find any consistency in 2014.

On Tuesday night, Ryan Howard came to the plate twice with a chance to end the game. Instead, he struck out and grounded out in the 9th and 11th inning, respectively.

He was booed. The Phillies lost in 14 innings.

On Wednesday's Howard's name was not in the Phillies starting lineup against San Francisco lefthander Madison Bumgarner. Recently-promoted Darin Ruf started at first base in his place.

It could be the beginning of a platoon, or at least decreased playing time for Howard, who is hitting .224 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI in 97 games this season. His .682 OPS ranked 126th out of 160 qualifying major league hitters.

Howard's hefty contract - he's owed a minimum of $60 million for the next three seasons, after this year - won't be a stumbling block when Ryne Sandberg fills out his daily lineup card.

"It's also about win and losses here, when the game starts, it's about winning the game," Sandberg said. "It's about being productive, chipping in, doing the part, doing something to help win the game. If that means playing someone else there, and there's production right away - more production - that's trying to win a baseball game. … I know what (Howard) can do. I think it's important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do going forward."

Before Sandberg talked about Wednesday's lineup change, Howard stood at his locker and talked about what he called a frustrating season. He was honest and understanding. He knows he's not playing like the player awarded a then-franchise record $125 million contract.

But he's also not planning on quitting, or watching his career go down without a fight. Here's most of what Howard had to say this afternoon:

Q: Disappointed you're not playing?

Howard: Yeah, you want to be in there everyday. (Sandberg) makes out the lineup. You have to ask him.

Q: But the last few weeks (7 extra-base hits in 44 games since June 2, 50 strikeouts in 166 at-bats over that time) have been a struggle, right?

Howard: There's always expectations, it's easy for people to put expectations on you because they're not the ones going out there and doing it. I have expectation for myself. And yeah, it's been a disappointing year. It's been a disappointing year for me, period. Things haven't necessarily shaped up the way I've wanted them to, coming back after basically not playing for the last two years, trying to make it through a full season. There have been a lot of highs and lows. A lot of frustration. There's frustration from the fans, frustration period. I have my own frustrations as well. You know, it's really, you try to stay positive. For me. I know people are going to put a lot on either how much money I make, or what I'm doing on the field, this or that or whatever, but at the end if the day, you go out there and try, you try to do what you can. I'm really just trying to get back in the flow of things. Trying new things, lowering my hands. Trying to get back into the flow of everything. It is what it is right now. you just try to continue to work. It's all you can do.

Q: What positives can you take from this year?

Howard: The positive? Still being healthy. My body has held up pretty well. I think it was, what, 2012 I missed the first half? Then I came back second half. Last year was missing the second half. I don't know if my body is trying to make up for that time, trying to get back on that, back into the baseball season-type flow. Right now it is what it is. You let things run their course and continue to work at it.

Q: With a last place team, do you understand a manager has to look at young players, see what they can do, and veterans playing time could suffer as a result?

Howard: Yeah, you understand that. You see what it is. You know guys are going to get in there, they're going to try to get them ABs. But like I said, Ryno makes the lineup. You guys have to ask him about that kind of stuff. I show up and if I'm in (the lineup), I'm in, if not, I'm not. So I don't really have anything to do with that.

Q: Some other guys have talked about wanting to go to a contender, obviously lots of talk with trade deadline approaching. Would a chance of scenery be beneficial for you?

Howard: I'm not thinking about that. Everyone is entitled to their own opion, but for me, the easiest thing to do when times get hard or things don't go your way is quit. I think it really shows what kind of character you have - and, again, I'm not talking about anybody in this clubhouse, just talking in general. But when times get hard the east thing to do is quit or give up. For me, you work through it. It's obviously a character building kind of thing. You work through it. And once you do work through it, you become that much stronger.

Q: Is this currently a career low-point for you?

Howard: Is this is a low point? This is baseball. And I know a lot of people might misconstrue this comment, but baseball is a game. Yeah I get paid a lot of money to play it, but it's a game. You go out to the field, you see little kids, it's a game. You have to keep things in perspective. You know, what I'm doing out here, I've got a beautiful wife, a great son, a baby on the way. And you have to take a look at life. Look at it for what it is. I enjoy playing baseball, I love playing baseball, I want to be the best that I can be, and go out and compete on a regular basis. But as far as my career is concerned, you have good years and you have off years. the year is not over yet. You guys, you might see me catch on, get on hot streaks where I hit 10 or 11 home runs in a month. If I were to go and have a great August and a great September, all of a sudden we're talking about 35 home runs and over 100 RBI. And we can go back to this conversation. It's not over until it's over. You know, this team can still do some good things. We just have to pull together and make it happen.

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