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Howard's lagging defensive play could mean earlier exits

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg may bring in defensive replacements for Ryan Howard more frequently.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. (David Zalubowski/AP)
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. (David Zalubowski/AP)Read more

LOS ANGELES - Ryan Howard was back at his customary position at first base last night at Dodger Stadium. But whether he'd finish the game there was another question.

On Sunday, manager Ryne Sandberg inserted John Mayberry Jr. into the game in place of Howard when the Phillies took the field in the bottom of the eighth inning. Mayberry ended up making a game-saving catch on a ball thrown low in the dirt on the final play of the game an inning later.

Sandberg said Sunday he'd "possibly" considering taking Howard out for defensive purposes more often. He called Mayberry a more athletic option.

But the fact is Howard, never a plus-defender, has seen his game at first base slip with each passing year.

Entering last night's game, Howard had two errors in 16 games this season; among first baseman, only Daric Barton, of the Athletics, and Jose Abreu, of the White Sox (three each), had more.

But Howard also had one error taken back last week, when an official scorer changed a previous decision to award a Milwaukee's Logan Schafer a double, days after the game was played. Howard himself said the play was an error, not a hit.

Among first baseman who qualify, Howard's -0.6 dWAR - the defensive component of the all-encompassing WAR stat (wins above replacement) - ranked 28th out of 28 players.

"He has not played well defensively," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He needs to be better. Pretty simple."

The Phillies submitted a request for a review of the official scorer's call on Sunday that ended with Ryan Howard reaching second base on a single and error in his fourth at-bat at Coors Field. If the play had been scored a double, Howard would have the first cycle by a Phillies played since David Bell did so in 2004. Manager Ryne Sandberg: "You're not guaranteed to knock a ball down when you're trying to make a catch like that, especially when he's trying to make a shoestring catch and have a play at the plate. There's a lot going on there. I'm not sure there's a guarantee to knock that down" . . . Darin Ruf (oblique) has began to take swings during his rehab in Clearwater, Fla. But Ruben Amaro Jr. was unsure when Ruf would be ready to get into games on an official rehab assignment.