It has been well documented that Ryan Howard has not been playing good baseball this season. I would use the term “slump”, but what Howard is going through is something much worse, something that he may not be able to recover from. His average so far in 2014 is .224, and he has hit a single home run out of the last 121 times he has been at the plate. Tuesday, in a 14-inning marathon against the San Francisco Giants, Howard had a chance to win the game in the ninth inning with a runner on third and he struck out, with the Philadelphia Phillies eventually losing 9-6.
It’s painfully obvious this is more than a slump. This is not something he is going to be able to work out of or fix on his own. The Phillies have given him ample opportunity to try to correct whatever is wrong, but Howard just doesn’t seem able to figure out what the issue is and fix it.
So enough is enough.
Manager Ryne Sandberg finally pulled the trigger and benched Howard for the Phillies’ Wednesday night game against the Giants. In his place Darin Ruf will play first base after being recalled from Triple A, and Marlon Byrd will take over the fourth spot in the lineup. Everyone seems to agree it’s a move that is long overdue.
However, don’t think that being benched is going to change anything or that suddenly Howard is going to start hitting balls out of the park again. This isn’t about giving Howard a “wake-up call” or trying something new to see if it will change the fortunes of the team.
To put it simply, this is nothing more than the beginning of the end for Howard in Philadelphia.
There was already talk about the possibility of buying out Howard’s contract despite how expensive that would be. But now there are also rumblings that the Phillies might take a huge loss and trade Howard to the first team that wants him or even simply release him at the end of the 2014 season. Apparently the Phillies’ ownership group has seen enough and are ready to move on from Howard, whether Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to or not.
This is a spectacular fall for a player who was once the toast of Philadelphia sports and recognized nationally for his power at the plate. For Howard’s time with the Phillies to end like this is not only sad, but it’s a real sign that the problems with this organization run very deep. If ever there was a clear sign that the Phillies need more than a “retooling”, I can’t think of one bigger than the Phillies releasing The Big Piece just six years after he rode down Broad Street when the Phillies won the World Series.
The Phillies need to make changes. History will show Howard getting benched was the first domino to fall.