MIAMI - For the second straight day, third time in four games in Miami, and fifth time in the last six games, Ryan Howard was held out of the starting lineup yesterday.
Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins are gone. Chase Utley was traded away, too, last week. Of the 2008 World Series roster, only Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz remain.
Ruiz has been splitting time as the starting catcher with Cameron Rupp for the last three months. In the last week Howard has started just once as the rebuilding Phillies go full bore with their youth movement.
The Phillies won for the fourth time in their last five games with yesterday's 2-0 victory, fueled by Rupp (a home run), rookie righthander Aaron Nola (eight shutout innings), Ken Giles (10th save in 10 chances) and Aaron Altherr (with his fifth RBI in four starts since joining the team last week).
"There's definitely energy," Howard said of watching the suddenly young team having success in the last month. "Guys are getting an opportunity to play and they are making the most of it. I remember being in that position as well. It's definitely fun when you're going out and winning ballgames."
Manager Pete Mackanin said that Howard would be back in the lineup tonight and also in each of the first three games of a four games series at Citizens Bank Park against the first-place New York Mets. The Mets are sending three straight righthanders to the mound in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon.
Although Howard has not started five of the last six games, four came with a lefthander on the mound for the opposition, another with a knuckleballer starting.
Since the beginning of 2012, Howard is hitting .186 against lefthanded pitchers with 189 strikeouts in 429 at-bats. Mackanin recently told Howard he would be resting regularly against lefthanders, which the 35-year-old first baseman understands given the makeup of the rebuilding roster.
But Howard will get an opportunity to add to his modest numbers against righthanders this week. He enters tonight hitting .267 with 16 home runs, 25 doubles and an .816 OPS against righthanded pitching this season. Howard had his second career three-double game in his only start in the last week, on Friday night in Miami.
"I'm ready to get back in there," Howard said. "Ready to get home and try to get back after it."
After facing bottom-division teams for the majority of the last month - the Phillies have played just five games against probable playoff teams since July 29 - the new-look Phillies will be tested with seven of their next 10 games coming against the Mets. After hosting four games this week, the Phillies travel to Citi Field a week from today.
It'll be an interesting challenge for a Phillies team that has gone 21-12 since the All-Star break, the fourth-best record in baseball behind Toronto (24-9), the Chicago Cubs (24-11) and St. Louis (22-12).
"Hopefully it'll be a good series," Howard said. "Obviously those guys are in first place and they've been playing pretty well. They've got a great pitching staff. But we'll try to see if we can make some noise. It'll be fun to go home, try to keep playing well and get back to where we were at the beginning of the second half."
'Awesome' for Altherr
For most of the last decade, Chase Utley has been entrenched in the third spot in the Phillies' lineup, the place in the batting order often reserved for a team's best player. Utley was traded to the Dodgers on Wednesday night.
Rookie outfielder Aaron Altherr, who only arrived on the active roster a day before Utley was traded, hit third in the righthanded-heavy lineup yesterday in Miami.
"It's awesome, man," the 24-year-old Altherr said of getting the chance to play regularly since arriving from Triple A. "I'm just taking it for what it's worth, trying to go out there and help the team win and just thank God I've been able to have that impact I've had so far and hopefully I can keep doing well."
Altherr was hitless for the first time in four starts yesterday, but he did drive in the first run of the game with a one-out sacrifice fly in the third inning. Altherr is 4-for-16 in five games and all four of his hits have gone for extra bases: two home runs and two doubles.
Combining his major league and minor league numbers, Altherr has 16 home runs in 116 games this season - two more than he hit in 127 games between Class A Clearwater and Double A Reading in 2014. The athletic, sure-handed outfielder credits health for a stronger swing: He suffered a wrist injury in the Arizona Fall League in 2013 that weighed on his mind through 2014, when he was held back in his first big-league camp.
"That was definitely a big part of it, getting over that and trusting my hands again, knowing that everything is OK now," Altherr said. "I'm over that now and taking more aggressive hacks than I was . . . It never really bothered me, it was just getting over the fact [and convincing myself] that I'm fine and I can swing the way I normally can."