PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard is still struggling at the plate, but Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is no longer talking about the possibility of a platoon at first base.
Howard was benched for three straight games July 23-25, when Sandberg said he wanted to see what Darin Ruf could do. Since then, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said he expects Howard to be the club's first baseman in 2015, and Howard has started nine of the last 10 games, including Tuesday night against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel.
Howard entered the game 1-for-25 with one RBI over his last seven starts. But he showed signs of breaking out of that slump with a solo home run to left-center in his first at-bat on Tuesday night and then a walk-off single in the 15th inning as the Phillies won, 2-1.
Sandberg said before the game he had not been considering removing Howard from the cleanup spot. That decision worked to the Phillies' advantage on Tuesday.
"People forget what I've done," Howard said after the win. "Ryno has played the game. He knows. He knows the ups and downs of the game and he knows you're going to have good days and bad days. For me, I'm just going to go out there and grind it out. I'm going to hit balls that are unfortunately going to go into the shift and balls back up the middle that guys are going to make plays on. All you can try to do is hit it hard and hopefully hit it where they're not."
What happened to the notion of a platoon at first base between Howard and Ruf?
"Well, I didn't say it was going to be a platoon, I said it was going to be a possibility somewhere down the road," Sandberg said. "I want the best for both players and for Ryan Howard to get going and for Darin Ruf to get at-bats. It's a little bit of a process, but looking to help the players."
While the general manager has publicly supported Howard, Sandberg said the front office has not mandated him to keep baseball's highest paid player in the lineup.
"No, the reason for the rest was for him to regroup and make some adjustments, which he continues to search for and continues to do," Sandberg said. "So hopefully he gets it going."
Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jalaymance. Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less