PHOENIX - In the Phillies' endless quest for sustainable offense, and with league MVP Ryan Howard sidelined, they made an intriguing lineup shuffle.

For last night's game against Arizona, Aaron Rowand, normally the sixth or seventh hitter, led off for just the fourth time since 2004. Rowand entered the game hitting .359, fourth in the league, and his .438 on-base percentage was fifth.

His .402 average against righthanders was second in the league; the Phillies faced tough rookie righthander Micah Owings.

"I liked that high batting average and that high on-base percentage," manager Charlie Manuel said.

Switch-hitter Shane Victorino, second in the league with 13 stolen bases, remained in the No. 2 hole. Regular leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, tied for second in the league with nine homers, hit third in front of Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and lefty spot starter Greg Dobbs, who played first base in place of Howard.

"I wanted to get [Rowand] in front of Victorino, Rollins and Utley," Manuel said. "Trying to find some balance in our lineup."

Fine - but why not insert Victorino in front of Rowand and/or Rollins, maybe for good?

After all, Rollins led the league with 86 total bases, had 19 extra-base hits, trailing only league-leader Utley, by three, and had 23 RBI, second on the team. And Rowand led the team with a .407 average with runners in scoring position.

Manuel said Victorino didn't lead off simply because he's too streaky. He was benched for two games last week due to a 3-for-28 slump. He returned refreshed and productive but Manuel doesn't believe Victorino, in his first full season as a starter, is as polished as Rollins and Rowand.

"It would take Victorino showing me he can work the count, and not chase bad pitches," Manuel said. "Once he learns to work the count some, be more patient, he can be a leadoff hitter."

Howard did not start for a second consecutive night as Manuel sought to rest the first baseman's strained left quad and knee. He will not start tonight, either, in the hope that 4 days of rest (the Phils are off tomorrow) will help his leg heal enough to shake him out of his funk. He was hitting .198 entering last night's game.

Rollins was dropped into the third slot for the fourth time this season. He is on pace to shatter his personal bests of 25 homers and 83 RBI, set last season.

"I liked his bat there," Manuel said. "Ryan's not playing. [Rollins] can go right in that three hole."

Rollins might go right back to the one hole tonight, or he might go there Friday, when Manuel hopes Howard will be able to return to the lineup when the Cubs visit Citizens Bank Park.

If Howard isn't able to come back and Rowand becomes a fixture in the leadoff spot, Rowand won't complain. He hit .319 in 43 games as a leadoff hitter for the White Sox in 2004.

"I don't change my approach for where I'm hitting," Rowand said. "The situation will determine my approach."

Fonzie's fine

Antonio Alfonseca gave up three hits and the run that gave the Diamondbacks a lead Monday, the fourth outing in his last five in which he has given up at least one run.

Antonio Alfonseca gave up three hits and the run that gave the Diamondbacks a lead Monday, the fourth outing in his last five in which he has given up at least one run.

He allowed one run in his first 11 games. He has yielded eight in his last five.

His boss isn't worried.

"He's pitched pretty good, even though they've scored some runs off him," Charlie Manuel said. "I don't [think] he's struggling . . . [Unlucky] things are just happening to him."

Indeed, most of the hits Alfonseca has surrendered have been weak swings, groundballs or low liners sharply hit but not driven. The glaring exception, of course, is the walkoff homer by Andruw Jones in Atlanta on April 30, when Alfonseca hung a slider.

Regardless, without the services of closer Tom Gordon and middle man Ryan Madson, who are injured, Manuel will continue to use Alfonseca in tight spots too early to call on default setup man Geoff Geary and default closer Brett Myers.

The alternatives are Triple A callups Clay Condrey, Fabio Castro and Yoel Hernandez and erratic Francisco Rosario, who lost Monday's game. Until one of them pitches effectively, Manuel will lean on Alfonseca.

"He definitely plays a big role in our bullpen right now," Manuel said.

Phillers

Tom Gordon, on the disabled list with an inflamed right rotator cuff, underwent an MRI exam yesterday. The results were negative. Gordon could resume throwing as early as tomorrow and is eligible to come off the DL in 8 days . . . Greg Dobbs' start (first base) was his fourth of the season and his first since April 22, when he was in leftfield. *

Tom Gordon, on the disabled list with an inflamed right rotator cuff, underwent an MRI exam yesterday. The results were negative. Gordon could resume throwing as early as tomorrow and is eligible to come off the DL in 8 days . . . Greg Dobbs' start (first base) was his fourth of the season and his first since April 22, when he was in leftfield. *