Ryan Howard will keep playing against lefty pitchers

Four hours before Friday's first pitch, the Braves switched their starting pitcher from a righthander to a lefthander. Charlie Manuel was aware of the change, and it did not affect his lineup. Ryan Howard would play first base and bat cleanup regardless.

Howard had not started against the previous three lefty pitches and four of the last five.

"He was going to play," Manuel said. "He's going to play tomorrow and he'll probably play the rest of the time through the break."

The slugger is one of baseball's worst hitters when a lefty is throwing. Manuel disputed the notion Howard has become a platoon player with three-and-a-half seasons remaining on his mega contract. The manager cited Howard's balky left knee. He believes it is prudent to often rest Howard. It makes most sense to do that when lefties pitch.

All semantics aside, Howard has not hit lefthanders for an extended period, long before the knee was an issue. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Howard's difficulties are half related to the injury. Since 2011, Howard has a .596 OPS against lefties. That ranks 222d of 233 hitters with at least 250 plate appearances against them.

His splits are more pronounced in 2013 than ever. He is hitting .302 with an .878 OPS against righties. That drops to .169 with a .503 OPS vs. lefties.

"I don't look at Ryan Howard as a platoon player yet," Manuel said. "I think he can still hit and still get going. His knee does bother him. If we're going to rest him against somebody, it should be against a lefty. But at the same time, it doesn't mean he is a platoon player yet."

Manuel said his questioners had "short memories." He cited a game from 2006 when Howard pinch-hit against a lefty and cracked a game-tying home run.

That, of course, was quite some time ago.

Manuel said a player's capability — even if the current performance does not mirror it — plays a factor into his decisions. Hence, Howard will play against lefties.

"Look at every aspect of it," Manuel said. "That's what goes through a manager's mind sometimes."

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