BOSTON - Ryan Howard returned to the Phillies' lineup last night at Fenway Park after sitting out Sunday against the Nationals with an ailing left knee. The injury had kept Howard out of the lineup in three of the previous seven games.
The question after Howard arrived in Boston, however, was how much more he thought his knee would affect him this season. The Phillies entered their home-and-home, four-game series with the Red Sox with 112 games remaining.
"Right now I'm just looking at it day to day," Howard said. "Sometimes [the pain] is a little more, sometimes it's a little less. Right now I'm looking at it day to day, and trying to run with the good days."
The Phillies, already on the wrong side of the .500 mark, can ill-afford to lose Howard's bat for long. Fellow stars Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz are already on the disabled list.
Of course, a hobbled or ineffective Howard hasn't helped the Phillies either.
Howard entered yesterday hitting .254 with a .719 OPS, six home runs and 25 RBI in 46 games. He has struck out in 52 of his 181 plate appearances.
Howard's 18 extra-base hits ranked 60th in baseball.
His .432 slugging percentage ranked 85th. In 2009, when Howard hit .279 with 45 home runs and 141 RBI, his .571 slugging percentage ranked fifth in baseball.
Despite the steep decline in production, manager Charlie Manuel believes Howard will rebound before too long and return to his past production.
"I'm convinced," Manuel said. "I think he's going to break out of it and I think he's got to keep grinding it out and stay with it, do the best he possibly can. I think we have to stay with him because like I've always said, he is a guy that knocks in all the big runs for us."
But Howard's knee is already bothersome enough to take him out of the lineup three times in the last week. And although he repeatedly said he's not going to use it as an excuse for his offensive woes, Howard is also honest enough to admit it's all connected.
"Obviously it plays a factor with it being my push-off leg; you try to get that extra torque," Howard said. "But if I'm out there, I'm trying to do what I have to do. I'm not making excuses."
For now, Howard will monitor the injury on a daily basis, and let his manager know when the pain is too much to play through. Manuel will look for days to get Howard out of the lineup more often than in the past.
But the injury is troubling. Howard had a cortisone shot to help deal with the pain two Sundays ago in Philadelphia. Exactly a week later he was out of the lineup because the pain was too much to play through.
"Some days are better than others," Howard said.
Howard said he hasn't discussed the possibility of surgery. But since he's in the second year of a $125 million contract, he's going to have to get his left leg right at some point, too.
"That's obviously the worst-case scenario," Howard said of surgery. "I guess, kind of, if all else fails. You just try to continue to monitor it and try to stay in front of it and see what the next step is."
Howard struck out twice last night, but also had two hits, including a double. He entered the game hitting .200 in his last 18 games with 26 strikeouts in 68 plate appearances.
Jonathan Papelbon returned to Fenway Park for the first time in a uniform other than the Red Sox yesterday afternoon.
Before signing as a free agent with the Phils two winters ago, Papelbon spent the first 8 years of his career with Boston. He remains the franchise's all-time saves leader (with 257) and was a member of the 2007 World Series championship team.
Papelbon was asked what he thought about when he walked back onto the hallow grounds of Fenway for the first time.
"I really don't think about a lot of things . . . There's really nothing going on here," Papelbon said. "For me, I'm just going out to play in another ballpark. The surroundings might be different, but I'm here to try to beat the Red Sox for two games, period."
Papelbon might hear a familiar sound if his old team brings its current closer into a game. Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings, Red Sox reliever Andrew Bailey, who grew up a Phillies fan in Haddon Heights, N.J., began jogging in from the bullpen to the Dropkick Murphy's "Shipping Up To Boston."
"We decided it's a Boston song and was a staple for this city for such a long time and the fans really enjoy it," Bailey told reporters last month. "It gets them pumped up, that's what it's all about."
Papelbon approved of the return of his Red Sox anthem.
"I like it, I really do," Papelbon said. "I think it's for a good cause and it's become a song that's [synonymous] with the team for winning in '07."
Cole Hamels hasn't pitched with a lead since April 7.
The Phillies have scored a grand total of 11 runs in the six losses he has racked up since. Hamels has an average run support of 2.64 per game, the eighth lowest mark in baseball.
So it's probably not surprising that Hamels leads all major leaguers with eight losses. The Phils are 1-10 in his starts this season.
Since 1970, only two other Phillies pitchers have been tagged with eight losses before June: Don Carman (1989) and Jim Bunning (1971).
Both Carman (5.48 ERA) and Bunning (5.43) had ERAs at least a full run higher than Hamels (4.43) when they got their eighth loss of the season.
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: A photo gallery of the Monday flop at Fenway -- you know, if your stomach can take it.